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No Super Bowl of Fundraising

The Super Bowl just isn’t what it used to be. At least not when it comes to political fundraising.

The big game, it seems, has lost most of its luster as a fundraising venue.

“The Super Bowl is really cost-prohibitive,” said Monica Notzon, a GOP fundraiser and partner in the Bellwether Consulting Group. “None of my clients are doing any events.”

Only a couple of Members of Congress have organized Super Bowl-related fundraisers. Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) is hosting a luncheon at the Dallas Palm restaurant on Saturday. The $5,000 price tag for a political action committee to be a sponsor also comes with a ticket to the game on Sunday. And Rep. Sanford Bishop (D-Ga.) is holding his “Second Annual Superbowl Bash” in Columbus, Ga.

Sen. John Cornyn, a Texan who chairs the National Republican Senatorial Committee, has planned a game-day fundraiser in a box at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. But people familiar with the event say it will largely draw on big NRSC donors from the Lone Star State — not so much from K Street.

“From the invitations I haven’t seen, it’s clearly not a big fundraising day,” said Democratic fundraiser Mike Fraioli, president of Fraioli & Associates.

That’s because the big game is logistically difficult to organize with travel arrangements and expenses. It can end up being something of a fumble when it comes to filling campaign coffers.

“The reason we’re raising money is because we want to have money in the bank to spend, so some of the trips that take a lot of money to produce, it’s not worth it,” explained Notzon, who worked out the Super Bowl math with some of her clients. “When you’re looking at big mega-events like that — and have to pay for tickets and receptions — you’re starting to talk about an event costing thousands of dollars.”

All that might have been fine in the days of big, unregulated soft money donations, which were banned by the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002.

“Certainly it would be much easier to finance such an event with soft money,” said Kenneth Gross, a partner at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, who leads the firm’s political law practice. “The expense of a box and that added complication of the travel associated with getting to the game, makes it very difficult with hard money.”

Fundraisers at the game, he added, pose “some real election law issues,” which most lawmakers and party committees don’t want to deal with given the high cost associated with putting on such events.

And many Members and staff now shy away from accepting lobbyist-offered tickets, even when paying for their face value.

“The last time I remember signing off on a Super Bowl ticket was when the Member was taking the lobbyist,” Gross said. “There’s just no way for a lobbyist, or non-lobbyist, to legally take a Member of Congress, unless the Member pays for the ticket.”

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