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Senators Using Joint Committees

Fundraising Method Thought Extinct After Campaign Finance Reform

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has already begun to raise money for its Members through joint fundraising committees, entities that were widely expected to disappear following the passage of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act in the 107th Congress.

Three committees — for Sens. Barbara Boxer (Calif.), Ron Wyden (Ore.) and Patty Murray (Wash.) — have collectively raised almost $150,000 this year for the Members and the DSCC. The committee has also established joint fundraising groups with Sens. Tom Daschle (S.D.), Byron Dorgan (N.D.) and Blanche Lincoln (Ark.).

The National Republican Senatorial Committee has not yet established any such committees, according to Communications Director Dan Allen. “We are considering all options including joint fundraising committees,” he said.

Mike Siegel, communications director at the DSCC, said Democrats see joint fundraising committees as a key component in their strategy to expand their hard-money network of donors.

“The ability to create these types of joint fundraising agreements provides not only maximum ability to help individual candidates, it also benefits the whole organization,” said Siegel. “The rules have changed, and the nature of the challenge has changed.”

Siegel said any decision to create joint fundraising committees for other Senators up for re-election in 2004 would be taken on a “case-by-case basis.”

Over the past several cycles, joint fundraising committees emerged as a popular tool of the Senate committees, allowing them to hold single events that raised money not only for a candidate but also for the committee.

In the 2002 cycle, 25 of these committees were established —17 for Democratic candidates and eight for Republicans.

These agreements allowed donors to cut a single large check, which was then divvied up between the candidate and the committee after expenses for the events had been paid out.

Although the dollars that go to the party committee are not earmarked for the particular candidate that helped raise the money, they are “attributable,” which means they are traceable back to the joint fundraising committee where they originated.

Because they are typically created as a holding tank for money raised at particular events, joint fundraising committees have minimal infrastructure and cost little to maintain.

Prior to the passage of BCRA, which bans the raising and spending of soft money by national party committees, the candidate would receive the first $2,000 as a hard-money contribution with the remainder of the funds going to the party committee in the form of a soft-money donation. Such soft-money donations could be made in unlimited amounts.

Under the new rules, a candidate can accept up to $4,000 from an individual donor while the party committees can take checks of up to $25,000 in hard money per year.

While the new laws do not allow party committees to reap the windfall of one huge soft-money check at a joint fundraising committee event, these agreements are still a cost-effective way of reaching more hard-dollar donors, according to Siegel.

“Given the fact that we are in a hard-money environment, [JFCs] can prove to be very helpful,” he said. “Now you are not able to raise money through one or two phone calls, this is the type of strategy you are going to see employed.”

Under this line of thinking, a joint fundraising committee allows the party committees access to a whole roster of hard-dollar donors — cultivated by each Senator — that have not yet been prospected by the party.

The DSCC’s aggressive approach to fundraising paid off in the first three months of the year, bringing in $5.1 million, just $400,000 less than the National Republican Senatorial Committee collected.

The DSCC ended March with $1 million more on hand than the NRSC — $2.5 million to $1.5 million. The Democrats did carry a hefty $5.9 million debt left over from last cycle, however. The NRSC completely erased its debt.

To this point, Boxer has been the biggest recipient of contributions through a joint fundraising committee.

The “Boxer/DSCC ’04 Committee” raised $113,000 between Jan. 1 and March 31, with the vast majority of those dollars coming in the final month of the filing period.

The single largest contributor to the committee was M. Quinn Delaney, president of the Akonadi Foundation, an Oakland-based group dedicated to “work[ing] with others to eliminate racism, with a particular focus on structural and institutional racism,” according to the organization’s Web site.

Delaney gave $12,500 to the joint fundraising committee on March 20.

The principal donors to the committee were film and television producers, including Norman Lear ($5,000) and Aaron Sorkin ($6,000). Lear is a former television producer and founder of People for the American Way; Sorkin is the executive producer of NBC’s “The West Wing.”

Other donors to the Boxer/DSCC committee include Ron Meyer, president and CEO of Universal Studios, and James Brooks, executive producer of the animated sitcom “The Simpsons.”

Through her official campaign committee, Boxer raised more than $1 million since the beginning of the year and had $2 million in the bank.

A slew of Republicans have been mentioned as possible challengers to Boxer, from movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger to U.S. Treasurer Rosario Marin to Reps. Darrell Issa, George Radanovich and Doug Ose. None has officially announced his or her intentions.

Boxer faced then state Treasurer Matt Fong in 1998 and won a convincing 53 percent to 43 percent victory.

The joint fundraising committees for Wyden and Murray were significantly less active in the first quarter.

The “Oregon Senate 2004” organization raised $25,000 in the period, all in a single donation from the Cow Creek Band of the Umpqua Indians. The tribe is based in Roseburg, Ore.

Wyden is not seen as particularly vulnerable in 2004; he narrowly won the seat in a 1996 special election over now-Sen. Gordon Smith (R) but was easily elected to a full six-year term in 1998 with 61 percent.

Wyden ended March with $1.3 million in his Senate campaign account.

The “Washington Senate 2004” committee received one $8,000 contribution from Microsoft Director Jon Shirley.

Murray is a major Republican target, though the GOP’s chances took something of a blow when Rep. Jennifer Dunn (R) decided against the race earlier this month. Rep. George Nethercutt is widely seen as the strongest remaining potential candidate for the GOP.

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