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Chambliss Takes Over Storied PAC

Sen. Saxby Chambliss (Ga.) is quickly turning into one of the GOP’s top money men after assuming one of the most notable political brand names in Washington.

At the start of the year Chambliss quietly took over the Republican Majority Fund, a decades-old leadership political action committee that had been run most recently by Don Nickles (R-Okla.) before he retired from the Senate in 2004.

In addition to Nickles, who was a member of the GOP leadership for 14 years, including a six-year stint as Whip, the Republican Majority Fund was also run by former Sen. Howard Baker (Tenn.), a Senate GOP leader, presidential candidate and eventual White House chief of staff.

The PAC’s lineage is enough to make Chambliss, now in his third year in the chamber, blush just a bit.

“If I can be as successful as those people, I’ll be in good company,” he said in a brief interview a few weeks ago.

Chambliss can already see the results in terms of the money he’s raising for this leadership PAC, as opposed to his now defunct Common Sense Leadership Fund, which he used as a House Member and in his first two years in the Senate.

Through April 30, the most recent reporting period, Chambliss’ Republican Majority Fund had hauled in $209,000 — well ahead of the fundraising pace he set over the 2004 cycle, when Common Sense Leadership Fund raised a little more than $334,000 in two full years, according to Federal Election Commission reports.

In an interview Monday, Nickles said he asked Chambliss to take over the fund because the two were close in terms of their politics, legislative agenda and love of golf.

“Saxby is just a natural fit. He’s very well liked by the business community, and he’s a very competitive golfer,” said Nickles, who since retiring has opened the Nickles Group.

In his years running RMF, Nickles often used the golf course as a primary venue for raking in dollars, including an annual event co-hosted by Sen. John Warner (R-Va.).

“If you’re going to have a fundraiser, you may as well have fun doing it,” Nickles said, confessing that he and Chambliss play very competitively against each other. “He’s got some of my money in his pocket, and it annoys me.”

Chambliss denied that money is simply pouring through the doors of the PAC, saying that it’s always easier to raise money directly into a re-election committee.

“Raising money is still difficult,” he said. “Leadership PACs are always tougher than raising it personally.”

A few factors have combined to make it much easier for Chambliss to bring in cash, including the fact that he ascended to the chairmanship of the Agriculture Committee after just two years in the chamber. Of the $209,000 he collected in Republican Majority Fund in the first four months, more than $162,000 of it came from other PACs.

In April, for instance, RMF’s PAC checks included $4,000 from the Food Marketing Institute, $1,500 from Lorillard Tobacco Company and $2,000 from Smithfield Foods.

Also, Chambliss has retained Nickles’ top fundraiser, Laura Rizzo, as his top aide at the PAC. Rizzo helped the Republican Majority Fund become one of the top three Senate GOP leadership PACs earlier this decade, when in the 2002 cycle it raised more than $1.1 million and dished out $625,000 to federal candidates and committees.

In addition, Nickles said the Republican Majority Fund benefits from brand recognition among GOP donors built up through years of work, which will make it easier for Chambliss to bring in cash.

“This is one that’s more established,” Nickles said. “The name is great — Republican Majority Fund.”

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