Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) raised nearly $2 million for his political action committee in the first half of the year, his largest six-month cash haul ever and twice the amount pulled in by any other Member’s leadership PAC.
Frist’s stunning fundraising effort for Volunteer PAC was due in large part to a significant shift in strategy, with the committee focusing heavily on a pricey direct-mail program. The PAC spent more than $314,000 on postage alone from January through June, according to an analysis of its report with the Federal Election Commission.
Frist’s big push into the direct mail market did not necessarily allow him to increase his cash balance by a huge amount — while he raised a little more than $1.9 million, he spent more than $1.7 million — but it gave him entry into the homes of thousands of conservative activists around the country.
VolPAC in previous years had been primarily focused on raising money from established big GOP donors, but now will give Frist a way to talk directly to less affluent rank-and-file conservative voters around the country. Those activists don’t speak as much with their wallets as with their ballots, particularly in early presidential primary states like Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina — places where Frist is spending an increasing amount of time as he considers a White House run in 2008.
Frist took in $749,909 in donations of less than $200, the types of small-dollar contributions usually yielded from direct mail, in the first half of the year 2005. In the first six months of 2003, by contrast, he raised just $80,000 in small-dollar donations for VolPAC.
Slightly more cash, $767,000, came from donations larger than $200, including almost $400,000 from other PACs. In the 2004 cycle, Frist raised roughly 10 times as much in big donations as he did from those under $200.
Frist hired three direct-mail firms to handle his effort, spending a total of $338,000 on their services and another $61,000 on mailing lists from Precision List, a GOP firm. That brings his direct-mail expenditures to at least $710,000 over the six-month period.
VolPAC has been Frist’s primary political vehicle for the past few years, particularly since he became majority leader in 2003. Since then it has become the biggest leadership PAC in Congress. He has used it as a major cash source for other House and Senate candidates, making direct contributions to their campaigns as well as steering donations from his donors directly into candidates’ campaigns.
Frist has also used the PAC as a vehicle to test the presidential waters, dishing out contributions throughout key states such as Iowa and South Carolina. Another example came this spring when VolPAC bundled conduit contributions to the House campaign of Brian Kennedy, a former aide to Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) who is now running for the seat being vacated by Rep. Jim Nussle (R-Iowa).
Frist usually reserves his bundling campaign for Senate contests, such as the 13 Senate campaigns which split almost $490,000 in contributions from VolPAC donors, according to a PoliticalMoneyLine analysis. [That money is not included in the totals of how much VolPAC raised or spent, since it is merely bundled up and sent off to the other campaigns.]
Those conduit contributions were Frist’s largest cash infusion to campaigns in the first half of the year, given that he had already donated the maximum of $10,000 to every Senate incumbent running in 2006 — donations he made last year.
Therefore, in the first six months of this year, VolPAC gave just $30,000 out directly, half of which went to the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
Still, because Frist keeps raising so much money, he has a huge balance remaining to spend: more than $1.1 million.
The $1.9 million raised dwarfs other Congressional leadership PACs, some of which won’t be filing until the end of the month. House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) raised $867,772 for his leadership PAC in the first six months, while Sens. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) raised $763,232 and $715,851, respectively.
House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) raised $633,731 for his ARMPAC, according to the FEC.
In addition to his shift to bringing on three direct mail firms, Frist’s VolPAC is also adding more consultants and pollsters to the payroll. Public Opinion Strategies, for example, was paid $40,000 for a poll in April.
Along with his long-time fundraising consultant Linus Catignani, Frist also has two other fundraisers on the VolPAC payroll.
Four different speech-writing or communications firms were also on the payroll in the first half of 2005, including Benjaman Clarke, a District-based writer collecting between $5,600 and $6,700 a month so far this year.
VolPAC also has two computer and web technology firms working on its behalf, as well as a research firm.