As Congressional Republicans headed into the last few weeks before Election Day, they opened a special joint fundraising committee to collect large checks from corporate CEOs in an effort to pick up as many Democratic seats as possible.
The result was phenomenal: Not since the 2002 ban on soft money have so few outside donors given so much money to a candidate-based fund.
This two-and-half-week experiment, called the Founders Joint Candidate Committee, collected nearly $1.2 million from about 30 families, according to a CQ MoneyLine study of campaign finance records. These receipts translate to an astounding average of $31,170 per donor — the most to any such organization in history.
The only exception to the Founders committee top per-check average is the Vitter Majority Committee, which was a joint fundraising committee created between Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) and the National Republican Senatorial Committee more than three years ago. But it only collected one donation of $33,100 from Gary Mockler, chairman of the Mockler Beverage Co., in October 2007.
Federal campaign finance law limits the amount any individual can give to a single campaign committee — the Federal Election Commission last week reset these thresholds for the 2012 election cycle to $2,500 per election. Because the primary and the general are separate elections, the most an individual can give to a candidate is $5,000. Individuals are limited to giving $30,800 to a national party committee.
But joint fundraising committees allow donors to pool all their donations to the participating committees in a single check.
This allowed the Founders Joint Candidate Committee to take in large donations, including a check from Pacific General Ventures President Nersi Nazari that exceeded $80,000.
This was the largest individual contribution during the 2010 election cycle to a campaign-based committee — other than transfers that candidates made to self-finance their campaigns.
The CEO of Roundtable Investment Partners, Geoffrey Boisi, chipped in $75,000 to the Founders committee, while a dozen others gave $50,000 or more each.
In all, almost 70 percent of the organization’s $1.2 million haul money came from a small number of business executives and their spouses.
“In our view, these joint fundraising committees should be barred,” said Fred Wertheimer, President of Democracy 21. “It creates an appearance that donors are able to give contributions to benefit a party or a candidate those go way beyond the amount that limits are.”
While the Founders Joint Candidate Committee fundraising was innovative, the disbursements of the organization were both strategic and effective — and legal.
Almost $545,000 of this money was later divvied up among 16 challengers who won in 2010, while an additional $147,000 went to four newly elected Senate candidates who unseated Democrats. In all, the committee helped fund 20 close races where the Republican candidates won their seats by an average of just 52.9 percent of the vote.
In addition to helping swing the balance of power toward the Republicans in 2010, the Founders Joint Candidate Committee also gave more than half a million dollars to the National Republican Congressional Committee, the National Republican Senatorial Committee and five other GOP committees including the leadership PACs of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.).
The Founders Joint Candidate Committee appears to be the brainchild of Richmond, Va.-based Benedetti & Farris, which received almost $140,000 from the committee for fundraising consulting fees and expenses.
Benedetti & Farris also began working for an organization called Founders Joint Candidate Committee II on Election Day. Tom Benedetti declined to comment for this story.
The use of joint fundraising committees to raise big checks has blossomed in recent years. During the 2006 midterm elections, joint fundraising committees collected 1,100 donations of $10,000 or more. During the 2010 elections that number swelled to more than 2,100 contributions in excess of $10,000.
Likewise, the number of joint fundraising committees has more than doubled — rising from 346 groups with receipts of $56 million in 2006 to 817 committees that pulled in nearly $92.6 million during the 2010 elections.
Wertheimer says one of the only things that keeps these huge checks from getting even bigger are federal contribution limits that cap the amount that an individual can give to candidates and party committees during a two-year cycle.
“Without them, you could give money to all candidates and all party committees and wind up being a million-dollar donor,” he said.
On Thursday the FEC officially announced the new limits for the 2012 election cycle, which were increased to meet inflation. Through the end of 2012 an individual can give a total of $117,000 in hard money to campaigns, federal parties and political action committees. Of that, a person can give a maximum of $46,200 to all federal candidates and $70,800 to PACs and parties during the two-year cycle.
One person who appears to be acutely aware of these limits is Nazari, who did not return phone calls seeking comment. In addition to giving the Founders Joint Candidate Committee $80,300, he also gave the maximum of $30,400 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee, $2,400 to the House campaign of Rob Steele (R-Mich.) and another $2,400 to Fiorina Victory Committee — a joint fundraising committee for 2010 Republican Senate candidate Carly Fiorina (Calif.).
These contributions bring him exactly to the maximum of $115,500 to all candidates, PACs and parties for the two-year 2010 election cycle. With a little help from the Founders Joint Candidate Committee, Nazari attained the feat in just four months.