Washington — With his take from contributions on the rise since his ascension in June to a top U.S. House leadership position, U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise is tapping into a growing trend in political finance: the joint fundraising committee.
His JFC — the Scalise Leadership Fund — was set up in September, and according to a report filed with the Federal Election Commission late last month, it collected $230,000 in donations in 2014. That money came from just six donors, topped by the $50,000 each from Lev and Anne Dawson, of Delhi. Lev Dawson built a career in the high-tech industry before buying a sweet potato farm in Delhi in 1994.
A single contribution of $50,000 would violate the legal limit on a donation to an ordinary political action committee 10 times over. But the structure of a JFC allows for such a donation — and potentially, for one far larger.
That’s because, as the name suggests, a JFC serves as an umbrella for multiple committees. In the case of the Scalise Leadership Fund, the affiliated committees are Scalise for Congress, which is Scalise’s campaign committee; the Eye of the Tiger PAC, which is his leadership PAC; and the National Republican Congressional Committee and its subsidiary recount fund.
The JFC collects money and distributes it to the affiliated committees, subject to the restrictions on donations that apply to each affiliate. The maximum allowable donation to the JFC is the sum of the maximum allowable donations to the affiliates. In the case of the Scalise JFC, that sum is $141,300, comprising $2,700 (per election) to the campaign committee, $5,000 (per year) to the leadership PAC, and $33,400 to the NRCC and $100,200 to the recount fund (per year).
There’s no cap on the number of affiliates that can cluster under a JFC umbrella — the Democrats’ 2014 Grassroots Victory Project JFC included 26 party and candidate committees — so the theoretical maximum single donation to a JFC is huge.
JFCs “will definitely have an effect on how much money comes into the process,” campaign finance lawyer Matthew Sanderson said — and that effect will be to increase the flow.
The reason for that is the greater ease and convenience, for both donor and recipient, of soliciting a single large donation from a wealthy contributor instead of badgering him or her repeatedly for numerous smaller contributions, Sanderson said.
“The donor gets the access and influence that comes with writing a big check,” said Paul S. Ryan, of the nonprofit Campaign Legal Center in Washington.
For Team Scalise, the ultimate goal is to run all contributions to his campaign and leadership PAC through the JFC, a top political aide to Scalise said. That simplifies things, and also helps with “branding” under Scalise’s name, the aide said.
JFCs have been around for decades, but they’ve mushroomed in popularity over the past 15 years. Their number grew from 87 in 2000 to 405 in 2012, with total receipts increasing from $52.5 million to $1.07 billion in that period, according to Sanderson and lawyer Kirk Jowers, both with the Caplin & Drysdale firm in Washington.
The function of the JFCs also has changed. At one time, they were used primarily as temporary organizations for events such as a fundraising dinner that included two or more candidates: Donors would write a check to the JFC, the funds would be distributed to the candidates and the JFC would go out of business. But now, they are broader and longer-lasting ventures. They figured prominently in the 2012 presidential election, with Democrat Barack Obama collecting $460 million through two JFCs and his unsuccessful challenger, Republican Mitt Romney, taking in $492 million through one.
JFCs received an additional boost in 2014 from a U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down the limit on the maximum total amount an individual could contribute to all federal candidates and committees per two-year election cycle. That limit, originally established in 1974 after the Watergate scandal, had reached $123,200 by 2013-14. Now, a donor can exceed that limit by writing a single check to Scalise’s JFC or any others.
The Supreme Court decision provided “a dose of steroids” for JFCs, Ryan said.
Scalise apparently got a fundraising kick of his own from his June selection by his fellow House Republicans as majority whip, the No. 3 position in the House leadership.
Contributions to his Eye of the Tiger PAC surged in June to $128,500, easily the biggest one-month total since his election to Congress, from Jefferson, in 2008 — a record that stood until October. The leadership PAC — which cannot spend money on direct campaign activities but can donate up to $5,000 to a candidate, including Scalise himself — took in more than $850,000 in the 2013-14 cycle, compared with less than $300,000 in 2011-12.
Scalise’s campaign committee also flourished, taking in almost $2.6 million for his 2014 race, in which he faced no serious opposition and won re-election with more than 77 percent of the vote. That was nearly twice his total for 2012. And almost all of that was apart from the $230,000 contributed to his new JFC.
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