Meredith McGehee, chief of policy, programs and strategy at Issue One, is challenging the creation of a new political fundraising group established this week by the Democratic Party.
On Thursday, Politico reported the formation of a new mega joint fundraising committee called the Democratic Grassroots Victory Fund. This joint fundraising committee will solicit contributions to benefit the Democratic National Committee, as well as state parties in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
Because of its structure, the new Democratic Grassroots Victory Fund appears to be able to solicit more than $540,000 per individual donor per year — or about $1.1 million per year from married couples. Some couples may be able to donate more than $2 million to this group before the 2018 election. These figures could increase even more — by hundreds of thousands of dollars — if the Democratic National Committee also uses this joint fundraising operation to raise money for its building and recount funds.
“The Democratic Grassroots Victory Fund seems to be drawing a roadmap for how wealthy people can give more than half a million dollars a year in a single check to the political party of their choice,” said Meredith McGehee, Issue One’s chief of policy, programs and strategy. “In spite of its name, it seems highly unlikely this fund will focus on the grassroots. There’s a huge disconnect between this new fundraising organization’s name and what it does to eviscerate campaign contribution limits.”
Added Michael Beckel, Issue One’s manager of research, investigations and policy analysis: “The larger the joint fundraising committee, the larger the risk of corruption and the appearance of corruption. The U.S. Supreme Court has said the integrity of our democracy is undermined if large contributions are given to a politician or political group to secure a quid pro quo. The risk of political corruption is heightened if party leaders or members of Congress are soliciting six-figure or seven-figure checks from wealthy donors seeking access and influence. This new fundraising group harkens back to the days of political ‘soft money’ when party leaders routinely asked donors for massive campaign contributions.”
While joint fundraising committees are not new, they have become more powerful and more prominent since the U.S. Supreme Court, in 2014, invalidated the so-called “aggregate” campaign contribution limits in a controversial case known as McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission.
Prior to that case, individual donors were barred from donating more than $48,600 in aggregate to all federal candidates. Donors had also been barred from donating more than $74,600 combined to all parties and political action committees. Thus, no individual donor could contribute more than $123,200 to candidates, parties and PACs — an amount that was indexed to inflation and increased each election cycle. These so-called aggregate limits were established by the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, which also banned political parties from raising “soft money,” as unlimited contributions from individuals, labor unions and corporations were colloquially known.
Presently, individual donors may contribute no more than $2,700 per candidate per election; no more than $10,000 per year to a state party committee; and no more than $33,900 per year to a national party committee such as the Democratic National Committee or Republican National Committee. A joint fundraising committee may accept a single, larger check from a donor — and then split the money among the beneficiaries, with none exceeding the legal limits.
Ahead of the McCutcheon Supreme Court case, several political reform organizations warned in an amicus brief that absent the aggregate limits, a single donor would be able to contribute millions of dollars to federal candidates and party committees.
“Absent the aggregate limits, a single donor could contribute a total of more than $2.4 million to the candidates of his favored political party and over $1.1 million to the three federal committees and fifty state committees of that party in a two-year election cycle,” the reform groups wrote.
During the oral arguments for McCutcheon, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito dismissed these warnings as “wild hypotheticals.” Yet this new development clearly shows that such massive joint fundraising operations are not, in fact, so far-fetched.