If You’re A Politician Who Needs A Lot Of Cash, Joint Fundraising Committees Are The Way To Go

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Nikki Haley With Cory Gardner
Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardener made a campaign appearance Monday Aug. 19, 2019, at the AMG National Trust Bank in Greenwood village with former Ambassador to the United Nations and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley.

Joint fundraising committees are the vogue way of raising big bucks these days. 

According to the latest Federal Election Commission filings, Republican Sen. Cory Gardner is involved in 12 of them. Democratic Rep. Jason Crow has five. At one point before his re-election in 2016, Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet had nine.

Joint Fundraising committees are a tool that allows candidates, political parties or leadership PACs to join together and well, fundraise. They’ve been around for decades but really took off over the last few years.

Joint Fundraising Committees for Sen. Cory Gardner

  • Gardner for Colorado
  • Defend the Senate
  • Senate Firewall 2020
  • Gardner Victory Committee
  • McConnell Gardner Victory Committee
  • United for a US Senate Majority
  • 2019 Senators Classic Committee
  • Gardner Tillis Victory
  • Americans United For Freedom
  • Senate Victory 2020
  • Protecting the Majority
  • Whitefish Victory

Committees for Rep. Jason Crow:

  • Serve America Victory Fund
  • House Victory Project
  • Blue Green Victory Fund
  • Save our House Victory Fund
  • Crow/Neguse Victory Fund

Rep. Joe Neguse:

  • Crow/Neguse Victory Fund

Rep. Scott Tipton:

  • Take Back The House 2020
  • Freshman Agricultural Republican Members Trust

“Joint fundraising committees are the easiest way for politicians or parties to solicit a single big check from donors,” said Andrew Mayersohn with the Center for Responsive Politics, a non-partisan group that tracks money and politics. And by donors, he and others mean the mega-donor.

Basically, joint fundraising committees enable a donor to write one check — sometimes as big as six or seven figures — for the sum of all the different candidates and parties involved in the joint fundraising committee.

“So, for example, if you have three candidates participating in a joint fundraiser, that committee can accept a check three times as big as they could to a single candidate,” he explained.

And donors aren’t contacted by 20 different candidates and parties for 20 different checks. While candidates get to save themselves some money, by splitting the cost for fundraising rather than foot the bill themselves.

Joint fundraising committees are great for people with name recognition, with strong fundraising skills, and those facing tight races.

Mayersohn said it’s easy to see why they’re so popular, among Republicans, in particular.

“Republicans are, make much more use of this than Democrats do because Democrats get much more of their money from small donors,” he said.

There are some restrictions. The candidates and entities in the joint fundraising committee have to decide ahead of time how they’re going to split the money. Donors still have to abide by individual fundraising limits, but thanks to the 2014 McCutcheon v. FEC Supreme Court case, there are no aggregate limits. Which, as Erin Chlopak of the nonprofit Campaign Legal Center explained, is helpful for joint fundraising committees who want to find mega-donors. 

“Until the McCutcheon decision, there was also a ceiling on the amount that individuals could give to all these different groups overall,” Chlopak said. Outside of the accountability work at the Campaign Legal Center, she spent more than a decade as an attorney at the Federal Election Commission.

The ceiling in 2012 was $46,200 to all federal candidates and no more than $70,800 to PACs and political party committees, according to the FEC. The Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision said the aggregate limits violated the First Amendment. So now that ceiling is gone.

“Theoretically, an individual who wanted to support every single candidate running and every political committee and party would be free to do that,” Chlopak said.

Raising massive amounts of money from a single donor raises concerns for her, because it gives individual donors resources “outsized power to influence candidates and parties.”

There is, however, one silver lining for transparency advocates. Joint fundraising committees make it easier to find big donors. Again, instead of going through 20 different filings looking for a single name, you can spot the big check in the joint fundraising committee filing.

Overall, though, Chlopak doesn't expect the fundraising rules for these committees to change.

“The people who benefit the most from them are the people in power, and they’re unlikely to make changes that would be contrary to their own interest,” she said.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the 2016 presidential election year set the record for the most amount of money raised by joint fundraising committees, about $1.2 billion. And 2018 saw an all-time record for the number of joint fundraising committees used at more than 1,500.

The 2020 election cycle could shatter both records. So far, President Donald Trump's two joint fundraising committees have raised more than $96 million and $65 million respectively.