'Jumbo joints': How big will the newest political animals get?

‘McCutcheon’ ruling empowers collective fundraising groups

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Expect this much from the U.S. Supreme Court's McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission ruling: New groups will emerge that allow big-time political donors to fund multiple candidate and party committees with a single check.

It's not yet clear how prevalent these new "jumbo-joint fundraising committees" will become — or if lawmakers or regulators will take any steps to curb their newly granted powers.

But the nation’s largest Republican groups have already formed a new collective fundraising venture to amass money from wealthy donors, as Politico first reported.

Known as the "Republican Victory Fund," the organization can solicit up to $97,200 per donor annually to benefit the National Republican Congressional Committee, the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the Republican National Committee.

Prior to McCutcheon, a donor could give no more than $74,600 combined to party committees over a two-year election cycle.

(Update, April 22, 2014, 2:40 p.m.: A "jumbo-joint fundraising committee" has also been created to benefit the campaigns of 19 Republican U.S. Senate candidate. The "2014 Senators Classic Committee" can solicit up to $98,800 per donor — double the amount allowed before the Supreme Court struck down the aggregate contribution limits.)

Democratic Party groups might also create new jumbo-joint fundraising committees to boost their own coffers and their most vulnerable candidates, to say nothing of keeping pace with their GOP counterparts.

For months, campaign finance reform groups have warned of a scenario in which lawmakers ask for $3.5 million donations through jumbo-joint fundraising committees to support every single candidate and national party committee on their side of the partisan divide.

During McCutcheon’s oral argument, Justice Samuel Alito dismissed such examples as a "wild hypotheticals."

Nevertheless, Paul S. Ryan, an attorney at the Campaign Legal Center, is still concerned.

"Members of Congress will be soliciting big contributions from people with business before Congress," said Ryan.

Kirk Jowers, a campaign finance attorney at Caplin & Drysdale, told the Center for Public Integrity that the use of joint fundraising committees will "absolutely proliferate" after McCutcheon.

But, he added, "I don’t think it’s going to be the huge earthquake that some predict."

Prior to McCutcheon, a donor could not give the legal maximum to more than nine candidates before hitting one of the aggregate limits then set by federal law. Now, that restriction is gone, which illustrates why jumbo-joint fundraising committees could become attractive options.

Take the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee: This November, Senate Democrats will be defending 21 seats, and political observers currently rank more than a dozen as potentially competitive.

Or assume, for instance, that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee wants to aid its most competitive candidates.

Currently, two dozen incumbents have been named by the DCCC to its "Frontline" program, which seeks to assist vulnerable incumbents. And there are another 35 candidates who are part of its "Red to Blue" program, which aims to boost competitive challengers.

If the DCCC created such a hypothetical jumbo-joint fundraising committee — or whatever you’d like to call such a group — it could accept contributions of roughly $340,000, even as each beneficiary receives no more than the "base" limit.

Likewise, the National Republican Congressional Committee could itself establish a similar effort.

There are currently 15 members of Congress who have been named to the NRCC's "Patriots" program, which aids embattled incumbents, and there are more than six-dozen candidates who have emerged as potential contenders for its "Young Guns" program, which aids challengers.

Such a hypothetical jumbo-joint fundraising committee could receive contributions of more than $400,000 per donor per year.

While plausible, Dan Backer — the conservative attorney who helped Alabama businessman Shaun McCutcheon bring the campaign finance lawsuit that now bears his name — predicts that the number of jumbo-joint fundraising committees will be nominal.

"The administrative burdens are not linear and getting up to a level where you can distribute $250,000 is probably going to be more hassle than it's worth," Backer said.

History shows that politicians have been increasingly embracing joint fundraising committees, and the most prolific ones, in terms of financial success, have been tied to presidential candidates.

During the 2012 election, both President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney operated joint fundraising groups that often asked each donor to give $75,800 — the aggregate limit at the time. This money was then split between each man’s campaign and various national and state-focused party groups.

If they chose to, lawmakers could rein in jumbo-joint fundraising committees — although Backer predicts such a move would be unlikely.

"Congress can just do away with joint fundraising committees, or apply an aggregate limit on joint fundraising committee checks," Backer continued. "But they won’t because it wouldn’t be in their best interest."