Campaign Finance: The Truth About Campaign Committees

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  • Source: UncoverDC
  • 03/22/2024
If you want to follow the money in politics, you have to know all the places to look. The following is a crash course in campaign committees you probably didn’t even know existed. One common misconception about campaign finance is that the Citizens United ruling allows super-rich donors to give as much money as they want directly to politicians for their campaigns. This is false. Campaign contribution limits are still firmly in place. For the 2024 cycle individual donations are capped at $3,300 for the primary and $3,300 for the general election- $6,600 total.  So, how do our corrupt politicians get around that? You already know about ghost donors, but allow me to introduce you to the perfectly legal world of “Campaign Committees."
First up: Joint Fundraising Committees (JFCs)
JFCs are campaign committees that involve two or more campaigns/committees joining forces to raise money together. The idea behind them is to save big dollar donors the trouble of writing multiple checks and instead allow them to cut one BIG check and then let the candidates divvy it up themselves. (Can't have Daddy Warbucks getting carpal tunnel from writing too many checks at once.)

The donor can give $6,600 per member of the JFC. Most politicians simply put their chamber's (House or Senate) party committee on their JFC, which means they’re now allowed to collect checks for $6,600 for each member of the party’s chamber. For example, here are the participants in House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries's JFC: Jeffries for Congress (his principal campaign), Jobs, Education, & Families First (his leadership fund), and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Caucus (DCCC) which includes every Democrat member of the House.

So now, donors can write a check to Mr. Jeffries JFC for $6,600 x 214. While most donors don't ever write a check quite that high (they prefer to spread the big checks out to a couple of JFCs), they're still plenty big enough.

It's the same story on the Right side of the aisle as well

Now, fans of the JFC are quick to tell you that donor limits still apply and no member of the JFC can transfer more than $6,600/cycle from any one donor into their principal campaign fund—no matter how big the check. And this is true. However, what they don’t tell you is the sponsor of the JFC is free to spend as much donor money as they see fit on “operating expenditures” for the JFC, and over the years, these funds have turned into total slush funds, especially for Republicans.

Here’s a look at the top 25 Congressional Republican JFCs for 2022. Ten of the top 25 Republican JFCs spent over 40% of their total raised on “operating expenditures,” AKA consultants, luxury hotels, and private jets.

Spreadsheet sources: All Joint Fundraising Committees, 2022 • OpenSecrets and Leadership PACs Summary • OpenSecrets

When it comes to JFCs, there’s only one Democrat JFC that comes anywhere close to what the average Republican one wastes on operating expenditures. Democrats use their JFC $ to win elections. Republicans use their JFC $ to go to Jackson Hole. 

Spreadsheet sources: All Joint Fundraising Committees, 2022 • OpenSecrets and Leadership PACs Summary • OpenSecrets

But alas, Joint Fundraising Committees aren’t the only campaign committees that are used and abused under the guise of “spreading the wealth." Next up, we have “Leadership Committees,” and if you thought JFCs were a scam, you ain’t seen nothing yet! Leadership Committees are what’s called “unconnected” committees—meaning since they’re not “officially connected” to a candidate, they’re not subject to the same donor limits. Translation: in exchange for not naming their leadership committees after themselves, politicians get to collect ANOTHER $5,000 from each donor under the auspices of “mentoring/supporting other candidates.” You’ll likely not be surprised to learn that these, too, have become slush funds, especially for Democrats.

Spreadsheet sources: All Joint Fundraising Committees, 2022 • OpenSecrets and Leadership PACs Summary • OpenSecrets

What you probably will be surprised to hear is who is allowed to operate these leadership committees. Turns out it’s anyone who’s held office or planning to run for office: past, present, or future. Also turns out that anyone who gets kicked out/voted out/leaves office can convert their leftover campaign cash into a leadership committee and then use those funds on “operating expenditures” as they see fit.

If you enjoy Mel's articles on campaign finance, be sure to share them, and if you’re feeling generous, buy her a coffee to help support independent journalism! 
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