A Republican fundraiser in the Hamptons in early August featuring an appearance by President Donald Trump sold tickets for as much as $250,000.
Earlier this year, two sisters from Indiana each gave $865,000 to the Democratic Grassroots Victory Fund — the largest individual contributions this year that did not go to a super PAC.
Massive campaign contributions like these are made possible through joint fundraising committees, political groups that take money for multiple candidates or organizations are increasingly common.
The number of joint fundraising committees has increased every election cycle since 2004. During the 2018 midterms, campaigns raised $525 million through these groups, a record for a non-presidential year.
Early in the 2020 cycle, joint fundraising committees have been central to the GOP’s fundraising success. The money coming through these committees is responsible for a large portion of the fundraising gap between the Republican National Committee and its Democratic counterpart.
Through June 30, federal candidates and committees raised a total of $183 million using joint fundraising committees. Nearly half of that was through committees connected to Trump.
Why fundraise jointly?
Joint fundraising committees allow campaigns or other political organizations to band together and raise money from big donors more efficiently. Fundraising can be expensive — soliciting contributions online requires paying for website hosting and credit card fees. To court wealthy donors, campaigns might rent high-end hotels or resorts for events and supply expensive catering.
In a joint fundraising committee, two or more candidates or organizations raise money together, thus sharing the costs of fundraising while raking in cash for multiple campaigns.
Per Federal Election Commission rules, candidates must decide in advance how the money from a joint fundraising committee will be allocated and must inform potential contributors of this allocation. Donors are also allowed to designate their money for one campaign or the other.
Two of the top-raising joint fundraising committees this year are affiliated with Trump. Both of them — Trump Victory and the Trump Make America Great Again Committee — are collaborations between the president’s reelection campaign and the RNC.
Individual donors are allowed to give $5,600 to a campaign each cycle and up to $35,500 to a national party committee each year. A wealthy donor, therefore, could write a check to one of the president’s joint committees for $41,100, and the Trump campaign and the RNC would each receive the maximum contribution.
Party committees are also allowed to take an additional $106,500 from any donor for special accounts, such as funds for the presidential nominating convention. That is why tickets for the Trump Victory fundraiser in the Hamptons earlier this month went for as much as $250,000.
The money raised through a joint fundraising committee still counts toward an individual donor’s contribution limits. So someone who gives $5,600 to the Trump campaign via Trump Victory may not also give money directly to the president’s re-election committee.
In the first two quarters of 2019, Trump Victory and Trump Make America Great Again raised a combined $90 million. They transferred $39.7 million to the Trump campaign and $19.5 million to the RNC.
Joint fundraising committees are often led by well-known candidates who, like Trump, have a history of successful fundraising and can draw in big donors. The president’s two committees brought in nearly half of all fundraising through joint committees during the first six months of 2019.
The third-best performing committee during that time was Take Back the House 2020. Led by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), the committee benefits the National Republican Congressional Committee, a number of House incumbents and several state parties. It has raised $23.2 million this year.
McCarthy’s other joint fundraising committee, McCarthy Victory Fund, benefits his campaign, his leadership PAC and the NRCC. It has raised nearly $5 million.
On the Democratic side, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s group, Nancy Pelosi Victory Fund, raised $8.4 million through June 30. Most of the joint committee’s money has gone to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
Although Pelosi and a few other Democratic leaders have had fundraising success, the top-performing joint fundraising committees have been affiliated with Republicans in recent years. Eight of the 10 top-raising committees during the first half of 2019 belonged to the GOP.
During the 2018 election cycle, the four highest-raising joint fundraising committees were all Republican groups, led by two of Trump’s committees, one committee associated with former Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Protect the House, which benefited a number of Republican House members.
In 2016, however, the top-performing joint fundraising committee by far was the Hillary Victory Fund, which supported Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign as well as the Democratic National Committee and a number of state parties. The fund received some criticism because it began raising money months before Clinton won the Democratic nomination, leaving the impression that state and national parties endorsed the former secretary of state. Ultimately, the fund raised nearly $530 million.
Once the Democratic party decides on a presidential nominee for 2020, that candidate will likely launch a joint fundraising committee with the DNC. Such a committee might help make up the current fundraising gap between the DNC and the RNC.
Eyeing the megadonor
Because joint fundraising committees can take in more money than any single candidate alone, they often target big donors, who can cut one check for tens — or even hundreds — of thousands of dollars.
Until 2014, individual donors’ total contributions to all committees were not allowed to exceed $123,200. That year, however, the Supreme Court struck down these aggregate contribution limits in McCutcheon v. FEC, a decision that made it easier for joint fundraising committees to find megadonors.
Top contributors to joint fundraising committees this year include Indiana sisters Cynthia Simon-Skjodt and Deborah Simon, who each contributed $865,000 to the Democratic Grassroots Victory Fund, a committee benefiting the DNC and several dozen state parties. The fund also got a $865,000 contribution from LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman.
Take Back the House 2020 has received at least $500,000 from each of 11 donors, including Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus and his wife Billi. Marcus retired from Home Depot in 2002 and no longer has any affiliation with the company.
Who needs a joint fundraising committee?
While joint fundraising committees are often headed by party leaders who are skilled fundraisers, they are typically most important for candidates in tight races.
The Colorado Sun reported last month that Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), who faces tough reelection prospects in an increasingly blue state, is a member of 10 joint fundraising committees. Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.) is a member of seven.
Incumbents, with their connections inside the Beltway, tend to be more likely to form joint fundraising committees than Washington outsiders. But challengers with establishment support are sometimes able to team up with sitting members of Congress as a way to bring aboard high-dollar donors.
Several Democratic candidates challenging sitting GOP senators teamed up with incumbents on joint fundraising committees in recent weeks.
Sara Gideon, one of the Democrats seeking to take on Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) next year in what will likely be an expensive race, has formed several joint committees, including one with Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.). Collins herself is affiliated with four joint fundraising committees, including one with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).
Democratic Senate candidates Amy McGrath, Mark Kelly, Jaime Harrison and Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (D-N.M.) formed a joint committee with Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
Other new joint fundraising committees this year include Maintaining A Majority, which benefits a number of freshman Democratic representatives, and Defend the Senate, which raises money for Republican senators facing re-election.
Presidential candidate and former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro and his twin brother, Rep. Joaquin Castro, also launched their own joint fundraising committee earlier this month, the Castro Victory Fund.