Update, Feb. 19, 2015, 11:25 a.m.: On Feb. 18, Center for Public Integrity reporter Michael Beckel appeared on Iowa Public Radio to discuss this story’s findings. Listen on Iowapublicradio.org.
In August, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul and Iowa Republican state Rep. Bobby Kaufmann drove for an hour together between political events in Davenport and Iowa City, jawing about property rights and eminent domain.
In October, Paul headlined a Kaufmann campaign fundraiser, where nearly 400 attendees chowed on barbecued pork, beans and cheesy potatoes in Kaufmann’s eastern Iowa hometown of Wilton, population 2,800.
And that same month, Paul’s political action committee sent Kaufmann’s campaign a $1,000 check.
Paul’s courting of a 29-year-old chairman of the Iowa House’s government oversight committee who has no national stature is hardly accidental: Should the Kentucky Republican run for president, he’ll desperately need support from local leaders like Kaufmann.
Kaufman, however, hasn’t committed to Paul, who was again visiting Iowa last weekend, or any other potential candidate.
“I’m not endorsing anyone yet,” Kaufmann told the Center for Public Integrity.
Paul’s charm offensive isn’t unique: During 2013 and 2014, potential 2016 Republican presidential candidates gave an outsized share of contributions from their PACs to politicians and political groups from Iowa and New Hampshire, the two states that host the nation’s first presidential nominating contests.
They use their PACs to lay the groundwork for possible campaigns and cultivate relationships on the ground with state officials and party activists long before they officially launch presidential bids.
That means people like Paul, a senator elected to represent Kentucky voters, are spending huge amounts of attention on Iowa, New Hampshire and other states far from their constituents.
During the past two years, six high-profile Republicans collectively spread $340,000 through their PACs — about 25 percent of their overall contributions — to nearly 100 beneficiaries in Iowa and New Hampshire, according to a Center for Public Integrity review of federal filings.
Together, Iowa and New Hampshire are home to about 1.4 percent of all Americans.
Paul, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton are the six potential GOP presidential candidates whose federal PACs each doled out at least $25,000 during the past two years to candidates and political groups in these two states.
By contrast, these men together used their PACs to contribute about $100,000 to politicians and groups in their respective home states.