According to several direct-mail consultants, earning back 80 percent of a campaigns costs during the prospecting period is considered to be a great rate of return. However, once a donor list has been cultivated and groomed, campaigns can consider a 200 percent rate of return to be an excellent deal.
Yes, but its still better than your standard political rubber-chicken fundraiser, Russell said. It still comes out way ahead of that.
Base Connect has a range of clients, from sitting Members of Congress to long-shot conservative candidates in heavily Democratic districts. Base Connect Chief Operating Officer Michael Centanni confirmed the firm works for Reps. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) and Anh Joseph Cao (R-La.) and counted Rep. Geoff Davis (R-Ky.) as a longtime client until last year.
Base Connect pitches itself, however, as a firm that does direct mail for candidates who could potentially have wide appeal and therefore a national fundraising base. For example, Base Connect worked for Russell when he ran against Murtha, whose views on the war in Iraq generated national headlines.
Among the other candidates the firm does work for is Lt. Col. Allen West (R), who is running for a second consecutive cycle against Rep. Ron Klein (D-Fla.).
One GOP operative who had an unpleasant experience working with the firm last cycle said he got the impression that Base Connect pitched candidates with little or no chance of winning.
They feed off of these fifth- and sixth-tier candidates that really, I dont think they know what theyre getting into, said one GOP operative, who declined to be named on the record because of his current job.
Centanni sees it differently: Candidates with potential dont have to invest any of their own campaign funds in prospecting donors.
None of these candidates have we ever asked, Oh, by the way, we need a check for $40,000 or $50,000 or $100,000 to get this program started, Centanni said.
Base Connects biggest money earner last cycle was Deborah Honeycutt (R), a black doctor running as a conservative against Rep. David Scott (D-Ga.) in a majority black district.
Honeycutt raised $5.3 million for her 2008 campaign but only netted about $700,000 of that figure to use to fund non-fundraising campaign activities, according to her top aide.
Honeycutt lost to Scott by 38 points in a district that President Barack Obama carried with 72 percent. Her cash position was not much better when she ran in 2006: Her aide said she raised $2.3 million but only netted $350,000 for the actual campaign. She is running again this cycle but is no longer using Base Connect.
I found that they did their job well, she said. I also found that the return to the campaign was not what I had hoped it would be.
Frank Ryan (R), a businessman and retired Marine colonel, is making his second run this decade to try to win Rep. Tim Holdens (D-Pa.) seat. He said he learned a lot from his 2004 race, when he raised $861,000 with the help of Base Connect but came in fifth in a six-way primary.
Although he has no complaints about Base Connect from that cycle, Ryan is still going with a different strategy this time around.
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., takes a selfie with his cut-out head during the Hoops for Youth 16th annual charity basketball game held at George Washington University's Smith Center, September 8, 2014. The members of Congress team beat the lobbyist team 46-40. Buy photo here.