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Members Take Cash, Check or Fine Wine

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Since 2001, donors attending Rep. Mike Thompson's parties and other contributors have given him more than 800 gifts of wine worth about $340,000.

Most of these in-kind donations were sold at an auction with the funds going to the campaign. At least 38 of these donors were listed as “artists” in disclosure reports, while other items that were put up for bid came from writers and graphic designers. One contribution included a replica lightsaber donated by “Star Wars” creator George Lucas.

In addition to this art, the Woolsey campaign also reported an additional $20,000 of in-kind contributions including photography, flowers and catering at campaign events during the 2010 election cycle. 

In-kind contributions are a legal part of American politics and have been around as long as elections themselves. Over the years, they have allowed excited voters to give what they can to support their candidates. The 2010 election cycle had a significant number of these typical contributions as citizens donated millions in campaign signs, food and rent to candidates, parties and PACs.

But the past two years also had their share of unusual in-kind contributions. For instance, people donated 32 birdhouses, birdbaths and birdcages to the National Rural Letter Carriers’ Association PAC.

“It’s an additional tool that our members use to raise PAC funds,” PAC manager Elliot Friedman said, explaining that sometimes these birdhouses are used as prizes for donors. Other unusual in-kind donations listed by the PAC include an Elvis beanie baby, a scarecrow and a turtle (presumably live).

Similarly, a Pennsylvania farmer and his wife gave Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) a $178 hog that was later listed as being given to charity. A Northbrook, Ill., homemaker donated $1,920 in “helicopter services” to former Rep. Debbie Halvorson (D-Ill.) during her unsuccessful re-election bid.

New York Republican House candidate Greg Ball received $1,250 worth of teeth whitening items for auction from two New York dentists. On the other hand, more than $4,600 in cigars and cigar-related products were donated separately as in-kind contributions to Reps. Frank Guinta (R-N.H.), Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and Kevin Yoder (R-Kan.).

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