By Kevin Bogardus - 11/14/12 10:00 AM EST
K Street has already made inroads with Congress’s incoming freshman class of lawmakers by helping out with fundraising.
Interest groups and lobbyists have bundled campaign contributions for at least nine lawmakers-elect, raising more than $800,000 overall, according to a review of Federal Election Commission (FEC) records by The Hill. Several incoming freshman members will be on Washington’s fundraising circuit after Election Day as well.
“The big advantage for us is it allows us to go beyond the $5,000 limit,” said John Isaacs, executive director for the Council for a Livable World. The group supports candidates who are in favor of nuclear arms control and bundles campaign contributions through its website and direct mail.
The Council bundled campaign contributions for Democratic Sens.-elect Tammy Baldwin (Wis.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), Mazie Hirono (Hawaii) and Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), according to reports filed by their campaigns.
“It’s not necessarily influence, but access. They will likely open the door to us,” Isaacs said of bundling. “It certainly doesn’t guarantee that they will vote the way we want them to vote.”
The bundled contributions also show a candidate where some of his or her core supporters stand on the issues.
“I can tell you, as a candidate, once … you see all these contributions coming in, it speaks volumes. You know why these donors are giving,” said former Rep. Marilyn Musgrave (R-Colo.), vice president of government affairs for the Susan B. Anthony (SBA) List. “People are looking for heroes, so when we direct money to a candidate we endorse, we are saying this person is going to be a hero on the life issue.”
SBA List, which opposes abortion rights, bundled more than $56,000 in contributions for Sen.-elect Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), according to bundler reports filed by Fischer’s campaign.
“Picture the candidate. You got a contribution here, you got a contribution there from different areas of the country. … Contrast that with bundling, where all this money comes in. That gives the elected official courage because of their stand on life when the issue comes up,” Musgrave said.
Critics of big-money fundraising in politics said bundling gives more influence to lobbying groups.
“People who give money in these amounts, they are not just speaking, they are investing,” said Kathy Kiely, managing editor for the Sunlight Foundation. “When these groups brag about how much they bundle, they are sticking their hand up and saying, ‘Guess who they are going to listen to first.’ ”
The Hill’s tally for bundling by lobbying groups in the 2012 cycle is likely a conservative estimate.
Groups said they have bundled more money and for more candidates than reports have shown so far; FEC reports detailing the final burst of fundraising in the 2012 campaign are due later this year.
A loophole in the disclosure requirements for bundling could also affect the numbers. Lobbyists have said in the past that they often don’t bundle enough during a filing period to trigger reporting — the 2012 disclosure limit is $16,700 per reporting period.
“The bundling reports are not as complete as they could be,” Kiely said. “The voters who are the shareholders here in the U-S of A could use more complete and timely accounting.”
David Jones, a partner at Capitol Counsel, gathered $26,000 in campaign checks for Rep.-elect Joe Kennedy (D-Mass.), according to a report filed by Kennedy’s campaign. Jones said he didn’t bundle for Kennedy to gain influence with the incoming congressman.
“No. 1, I think he will be a great congressman. He is intelligent and hardworking,” Jones said. “No. 2, my first job in Washington was as an intern for Sen. [Edward] Kennedy [D-Mass.] and I went on to work for Patrick Kennedy and I knew his father, Joe Kennedy, when he worked in Congress.”
Liz Robbins Associates bundled $18,000 for Sen.-elect Angus King (I-Maine), according to a report from his campaign. Julie Beaumont, a principal at the firm, said Robbins and King had been friends for 40 years.
“The campaign filed the report out of an abundance of caution. She and her husband had a dinner party for [King],” Beaumont said.
The Club for Growth has also gotten into the bundling game, gathering funds for Reps.-elect Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) and Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.), according to reports filed by their campaigns.
“The Club’s PAC endorsed these candidates because we believe they will vote for pro-growth policies in Congress, and we look forward to seeing them in action in the next Congress,” said Barney Keller, a spokesman for the Club.
J Street, which supports a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict, has also bundled for candidates it supports, including Baldwin, according to reports filed by her campaign. The new Wisconsin senator was slated to appear on a tele-town hall with J Street supporters the Thursday after the election.
“We were able to show very strong support for this candidate from the Jewish community,” said Daniel Kalik, J Street’s director of political affairs. “We are there to protect our friends and show support from our membership.”
Though bundling for Election Day has ceased, that doesn’t mean new lawmakers have stopped fundraising.
Fischer has a fundraising reception scheduled for this week, while Sen.-elect Ted Cruz (R-Texas) will have a debt-retirement event later this month, according to invitations obtained by Sunlight’s PoliticalParty Time.
Rep.-elect Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) is scheduled to hold a fundraising breakfast this week to retire her campaign debt, according to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s directory of events, which has been obtained by The Hill.
“Candidates cannot even stop to savor their victory. They haven’t even been sworn yet and they have already scheduled a fundraiser. It shows the role of money in politics,” Kiely said.