Rubio cranks up money machine

Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioOvernight Cybersecurity: Bipartisan bill aims to deter election interference | Russian hackers target Senate | House Intel panel subpoenas Bannon | DHS giving 'active defense' cyber tools to private sector Senators unveil bipartisan push to deter future election interference Puerto Rico's children need recovery funds MORE (R-Fla.) has assembled a team of heavyweight Washington insiders to raise money for his future political ambitions.

A group of well-connected lobbyists and fundraisers met with Rubio at the National Republican Senatorial Committee headquarters two weeks ago to discuss the senator’s fundraising strategy. 

The powwow had the feeling of a presidential-style steering committee, according to people in the room.

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Rubio didn’t address any possible ambitions for a presidential bid in 2016, according to sources familiar with the meeting. Instead, the focus was on raising money to help Republican candidates in next year’s midterm elections.

 A lobbyist who attended the gathering said the purpose was “to engage people on a more full-time basis to raise money for Rubio’s campaign and for his leadership PAC.”

 “It’s mostly for his leadership PAC. He’s going to be very engaged in helping others around the country and getting the message out,” said the source, who requested anonymity. The source estimated more than two dozen “downtown folks from all different industries” attended the meeting. 

 The unspoken assumption in the room was that the fundraising group would help launch Rubio’s presidential campaign if he decided to aim for the White House. 

 “I took it as preparation, to be prepared to run for the White House,” said an attendee. 

 The heads of Rubio’s K Street money machine are Dirk Van Dongen, president of the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors, and former Rep. Bill Paxon (R-N.Y.), a senior adviser at the lobbying firm Akin Gump.  

 Van Dongen bundled $1.4 million for GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney in 2012, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a group that tracks fundraising. Paxon bundled $543,500 for Romney.

 Wayne Berman, a senior adviser at the global investment firm Blackstone; Michael Zarrelli, manager of federal affairs at Amway; Matt Keelen, president of The Keelen Group; and tax lobbyist Patrick Raffaniello were some of the attendees. Paxon was absent, but was represented by Geoff Verhoff, according to a source. 

 Berman bundled $478,000 in contributions for Romney in 2012, and Zarrelli bundled $106,000, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. 

 A spokesman for Rubio declined to comment. 

 The 42-year-old senator has already begun to collect political chits by helping out colleagues with his fundraising network and popularity among Republican donors. 

 Rubio’s leadership fund, Reclaim America PAC, recently spent a six-figure sum on an ad to defend New Hampshire Sen. Kelly AyotteKelly Ann AyotteLessons from Alabama: GOP, throw out the old playbook The Hill's 12:30 Report Explaining Democratic victories: It’s gun violence, stupid MORE (R) from attack ads funded by a gun control group backed by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. 

 “I’m certainly appreciative of his help,” Ayotte said. “Any ad that presents the truth, which is what his ad did — given that Mayor Bloomberg is spending millions of dollars on false ads against me — is very helpful.”

 Ayotte, whose state plays a huge role in deciding presidential nominees, is expected to be a major player in the 2016 race.

 People familiar with Rubio’s fundraising operation say he hasn’t yet made a decision to run for president, but wants to lay the groundwork so he can have that option two years from now. 

 Rubio plans to travel to New York in the near future to hold a fundraiser for Gabriel Gomez, the Republican who is running against Rep. Edward MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyDemocrats search for 51st net neutrality vote Overnight Regulation: Dems claim 50 votes in Senate to block net neutrality repeal | Consumer bureau takes first step to revising payday lending rule | Trump wants to loosen rules on bank loans | Pentagon, FDA to speed up military drug approvals Dems say they have 50 votes in Senate to overrule net neutrality repeal MORE (D-Mass.) in a special election to replace former Sen. John KerryJohn Forbes KerryFeehery: Oprah Dem presidential bid unlikely Dem hopefuls flock to Iowa Change in Iran will only come from its people — not the United States MORE

 Rubio’s political action committee recently sent a fundraising email to his supporters touting New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie as a conservative leader. Christie is up for reelection in November and could be one of Rubio’s rivals in three years.

 Earlier this year, Rubio visited Kentucky to help raise more than $200,000 for Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSessions: 'We should be like Canada' in how we take in immigrants NSA spying program overcomes key Senate hurdle Overnight Finance: Lawmakers see shutdown odds rising | Trump calls for looser rules for bank loans | Consumer bureau moves to revise payday lending rule | Trump warns China on trade deficit MORE (Ky.). 

 Rubio wants to help his party win the majority in 2014, when Democrats have to defend seats in conservative-leaning states across the country. But these political favors could also help him if he runs for president and needs to expand his donor network and recruit staff in primary states around the country.

 A group of D.C. insiders with strong track records for raising money could help Rubio put together a sophisticated campaign operation in 2015. 

 Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMcCain rips Trump for attacks on press NSA spying program overcomes key Senate hurdle Meghan McCain says her father regrets opposition to MLK Day MORE (Ariz.), who won the Republican presidential nomination in 2008, relied on K Street haymakers to build his war chest. 

 Berman and Van Dongen each bundled  more than $500,000 for McCain five years ago, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. 

 Zarrelli raised almost $1 million for former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s 2008 presidential bid. 

 Van Dongen, who raised more than $200,000 as a “Ranger” for former President George W. Bush, initially supported Giuliani in 2008. 

 Rubio raised $2.29 million through his Senate campaign committee, leadership PAC and a joint fundraising account during the first three months of 2013. 

 He reported $1.49 million in his Senate account and $565,500 in his leadership PAC at the end of March, according to the Federal Election Commission.