Nonpartisan PAC seeks to mirror business model

A new political action committee is trying to become the of the 2012 election cycle.

The nonpartisan PAC is called VoteSane and mirrors the business model of Amazon or, which allows shoppers to compare and purchase products in a one-stop market. In the case of VoteSane, users research and donate to candidates.

Whether the business plan catches on and VoteSane becomes a major force in the marketplace like Amazon or Priceline remains to be determined. But some candidates, such as Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), a member of the deficit-reduction supercommittee, have already benefited handsomely by attracting donors through VoteSane.

{mosads}Donors gave $14,143 to Baucus in the third quarter of this year, accounting for 20 percent of Baucus’s $71,241 in total individual contributions this quarter. Baucus’s office declined to comment for this article.

Founded in June of last year, VoteSane publishes information for both GOP and Democratic candidates on its website and gives potential donors a quick and easy way to support those who catch their eye.

Campaign finance experts say they’ve never heard of a conduit PAC giving to both Democrats and Republicans and letting donors themselves decide which party to support.

“VoteSane appears to be unique in the record of serving as a conduit to politicians on both sides of the partisan divide,” said Michael Beckel, spokesman for the Center for Responsive Politics.

While it is common for business and labor PACs to make contributions to both parties, conduit PACs are typically driven by ideology, Beckel said.

“Ideology can be a strong motivating force in getting someone to open up their wallet,” Beckel said.

Similar PACs that make conduit contributions like ActBlue and Political Action both express liberal agendas while The Club For Growth and ActRight lean conservative. Some PACs that raise conduit contributions capture even a smaller niche. Emily’s List donates to Democratic candidates who support abortion rights.

Robert Zimmer, the PAC’s founder, said when voters hear PAC, they immediately think partisanship. But he compared VoteSane to a stock exchange, which opens up a fair market for competition.

“Our cause is called creating a marketplace where voters have full choices, but we are not partisan and voters have trouble [with that],” Zimmer told The Hill. “…A PAC doesn’t have to list some candidates, you can list all candidates.”

Though technically a PAC, VoteSane’s donations are counted by the Federal Election Commission as individual contributions, which allows it to exceed the $5,000 PAC limit. This is because individual donations to the PAC are specifically earmarked for a certain candidate (individuals’ contributions to one candidate are limited to $2,500). The PAC simply acts as a middle man for individual contributors and the candidate.

Zimmer said he couldn’t explain VoteSane’s contributions to Baucus as it is individual contributors who are earmarking money for the senator, not VoteSane’s directors.

The PAC’s contributions to Baucus alone this quarter total more than VoteSane’s entire contributions in the first half of the year. VoteSane raised $12,000 through June 30 in this election cycle, according to its most recent filing with the FEC. But its website touts total contributions at $472,987 a little less than four months later. Zimmer confirmed that number and said the lean capital structure prevented VoteSane from rushing the market with advertising.

“The hardest thing to do is market it and brand it, because it is a crowded busy world out there,” Zimmer said.

While VoteSane’s website information is nonpartisan, contributors to the PAC have favored Republicans by an 87 percent margin, according to most recent FEC mid-year report. Zimmer said other conduit PACs already have a hold on Democratic support and it is hard to wrestle them away from places like ActBlue. He also noted that Internet donations seem to favor the party out of power. Republicans hold a majority in the House and Democrats control the Senate and the White House.

“I think the rub on us is still, whenever that next FEC report comes out, my guess is that it will still lean Republican,” Zimmer said.

As of June 30 — the most recent FEC filing — VoteSane has donated to other lawmakers this cycle, including Sens. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) Patrick Toomey (R-Pa.) and Reps. Dave Camp (R-Mich.), Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.), Tom Latham (R-Iowa), Gary Miller (R-Calif.), Steve Pearce (R-N.M.), Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.), David Schweikert (R-Ariz.), Pat Tiberi (R-Ohio), Greg Walden (R-Ore.), Judy Biggert (R-Ill.) and Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.).

Tags David Schweikert Mary Landrieu Max Baucus

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