Earlier this month, Hillary Clinton attended her first event for an organization called the Hillary Victory Fund. About 160 guests attended, and the event grossed more than $5 million.
The Hillary Victory Fund is a joint fundraising committee for Hillary For America, the Democratic National Committee, and the Democratic committees of 32 states and Puerto Rico.
DNC spokesman Eric Walker said the victory fund’s mission is to win more than just the White House. “We do not want it to be a lonely victory for the Democratic nominee, who is eventually going to win the presidency,” he said.
Presidential candidates have always looked for legal ways to get more campaign cash. In 2008, for instance, the Obama operation asked big donors to give around $30,000, just hitting the legal limits for giving to the campaign, DNC and related committees combined.
This year, by comparison, Hillary Clinton’s organization can ask donors to give nearly three-quarters of a million dollars each. Here’s how it works:
Donors who are rich – and willing – can give $5,400 to the Clinton campaign, $33,400 to the Democratic National Committee and $10,000 to each of the state parties, about $360,000 in all. A joint fundraising committee lets the donor do it all with a single check.
On Jan. 1, the contribution limits reset for the party committees, and the Hillary Victory Fund can go back to its donors for another $350,000 in party funds.
All told, a single donor can give more than $700,000 for the election. That’s serious money, according to campaign finance lawyer Brett Kappel. He said, “It also shows you where campaign finance law has gone. We’re now back in the era of soft money.”
“Soft money” was the term for unregulated contributions to the party committees in the 1980s and ’90s. The soft money system led to corruption cases in both major parties, and Congress barred party committees from raising it in 2002.
But eight years later, the Supreme Court gave unregulated money a new path with Citizens United and other court decisions.
In a 2014 ruling in the case McCutcheon v. FEC, the Supreme Court elevated the importance of joint fundraising committees between campaigns and parties, such as the Hillary Victory Fund.
Campaign finance law had previously set an overarching limit on how much one person could give to federal candidates and the major parties — combined — in one election cycle. In McCutcheon, the Supreme Court said that limit was unconstitutional. As in other rulings, the court said removing the limit didn’t raise questions of corruption.
Kappel questions that conclusion. “If you walk in with a $600,000 check, obviously the candidate’s going to remember your name,” he said.
The Clinton campaign and the DNC say money raised by the Hillary Victory Fund is financing the Democrats’ state party program, building up infrastructure and research operations around the country.
But it’s the Clinton campaign that controls the flow of cash. A memo from the campaign to participating state parties says big donors will be “allocated” to states for reporting purposes. Campaign finance records show the the money moves quickly from donor to state party to the DNC, which targets the money for greatest effect.
Josh Schwerin of the Clinton campaign said, “This is an agreement between our campaign, the DNC and state parties across the country, and the resources are allocated in a way that helps strengthen Democrats up and down the ballot and helps us win next November.”
This isn’t a new idea.
In 2012, Republican nominee Mitt Romney raised money in California and other Democratic states, for the Republican national committee to spend in competitive states.
What’s new this year – aside from the sheer volume of money – is that presidential candidates are no longer waiting till after the primaries to launch a joint fundraising committee.
Not only does Clinton have one, but so does her rival Bernie Sanders. His campaign and the DNC set up the Bernie Victory Fund last month. It doesn’t appear nearly as active as the Hillary Victory Fund.
But we won’t find out how either of them is really doing till the end of next month when the next round of campaign fundraising reports is due.