Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign raised significant funds by renting its list to campaigns for lawmakers such as GOP Rep. Michele Bachmann and GOP Senate candidates Carly Fiorina in California and Joseph DioGuardi in New York.
Political campaigns have figured out what direct marketers have long known: There's good money in your email address and contact information.
During the past four years, more than 90 campaigns, parties and political action committees have sold their donors' personal contact information to outside groups as a way to raise millions of dollars, according to a Roll Call study.
Though privacy advocates criticize the practice, campaign records show that campaigns have paid about $50 million since 2007 to rent donor lists, though this includes purchases from some private firms as well as campaigns.
Some of the campaigns that have charged the most money for access to their donors' information are the biggest names from the 2008 presidential election, including Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and President Barack Obama.
"These lists are the biggest assets of any campaign," said Caleb Burns, a partner at Wiley Rein in the firm's election law and government ethics section. "If you think about campaigns, they are largely ephemeral."
Clinton's campaign disclosed receipts topping $4 million from the rental of her list to more than 60 campaigns, organizations and list brokers since 2008. Some of the campaigns paying the most for this contact information included $66,000 from Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), $47,000 from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and almost $24,000 from Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.).
Her campaign also rented this information to causes connected to the former Senator, including the William J. Clinton Foundation with almost $350,000 and her former leadership fund, HillPAC, which has paid $822,000 for the list throughout the years. Under campaign finance rules, the campaign's donor list is an asset that she cannot simply give away to groups or campaigns — they have to pay to rent it.
The infusion of funds from rental fees was badly needed by Clinton's presidential campaign because it had $5.9 million in debt at the end of the 2008 election cycle. The campaign has since lowered this debt to $274,000 through the end of September.
McCain's presidential campaign also raised significant funds by renting its list to campaigns for lawmakers such as Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) and GOP Senate candidates Carly Fiorina in California and Joseph DioGuardi in New York.
Technically, the former Republican presidential nominee leads all campaigns with more than $4.6 million in rental fees listed in FEC reports since 2008. But the lion's share of this money — about $4.5 million — came from his various campaigns renting lists to McCain's affiliated organizations, including his political compliance fund, his joint fundraising committee and his leadership PAC. Similar transactions show Obama's presidential campaign received more than $1.3 million from the Democratic National Committee in April to rent contact information.
Roll Call has launched a new feature, Hill Navigator, to advise congressional staffers and would-be staffers on how to manage workplace issues on Capitol Hill. Please send us your questions anything from office etiquette, to handling awkward moments, to what happens when the work life gets too personal. Submissions will be treated anonymously.