How the GOP Senate Could Supercharge Clinton-Style Joint Fundraising Committees

A "dark" roll of hundred dollar bills

Revelations last month that the Clinton campaign’s joint fundraising agreement with the Democratic National Committee (DNC) fueled accusations that the primary was “rigged.”

The agreement was certainly problematic. It appeared to grant Clinton a degree of control over the DNC, months before voters had a chance to cast their ballot, further tilting the political landscape toward the interests of megadonors rather than voters. President Trump even called the joint fundraising agreement evidence of “real collusion and dishonesty.”

But now, the Republican-controlled Senate is pushing a measure to grant presidential candidates even more control over how parties spend those massive joint fundraising checks.

Clinton wasn’t the only presidential candidate with a joint fundraising committee. Trump had one, too, with the Republican National Committee (RNC) and a few dozen state GOP party committees. These agreements allowed Clinton or Trump to solicit, and an individual donor to write, six- or seven-figure checks.

How? Although an individual donor may only give $2,700 per election to a presidential candidate, $33,400 per year to a national party committee like the DNC or RNC (plus $101,700 each to convention, recount, and headquarters accounts) and $10,000 per year to each of a party’s 50 state party committees, joint fundraising allows for the aggregation of these contribution limits.

So Clinton’s joint fundraising committee, for example, could accept a $356,100 check from a single donor, by adding together Clinton’s $2,700 contribution limit, the DNC’s $33,400 limit, and the $10,000 contribution limit for each of the 32 participating state parties. The funds raised were then supposed to be divided between each of the participating candidate and party committees.

But in 2016, the money raised through Clinton’s and Trump’s joint fundraising committees did not stay with the state parties.

Instead, as soon as the joint fundraising proceeds were deposited in the state party accounts, almost all of it was sent back to the DNC or the RNC, which then spent the money to benefit their party’s presidential candidate. These arrangements have the potential of giving wealthy donors an outsized level of influence over the beneficiary of those funds. But the Senate bill would make this already problematic situation even worse.

Currently, perhaps the only check on a party’s presidential candidate controlling how a party spends its joint fundraising proceeds are the “party coordinated expenditure limits.” As the name suggests, party coordinated expenditure limits cap how much the DNC or RNC may spend in coordination with a candidate.

An appropriations bill from the Senate financial services appropriations subcommittee would eradicate those limits. Section 633 effectively eliminates those limits by defining “coordination” so narrowly that it is rendered meaningless. If enacted, this change would allow presidential candidates to control how the parties spend the entirety of the massive checks raised through joint fundraising committees.

This means that a megadonor who writes a six- or seven-figure check to a candidate’s joint fundraising committee can be especially confident that their money is going to benefit the candidate – even though the law says that they may only give $2,700 directly to the candidate. And big donors will likely expect a level of gratitude from the candidate that is commensurate with the size of their check.

Thought Hillary Clinton’s joint fundraising agreement was bad? The GOP Senate is about to make these schemes much, much worse.

Brendan directs CLC’s work before federal regulatory agencies, such as the Federal Election Commission (FEC).