Gee, Another Record-Breaking Fundraiser…

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In case you missed the brief AP story yesterday, President Bush hosted the season’s biggest GOP fundraiser on Wednesday, raising $17 million for the Republican Party. It was a record for a non-presidential election year, but the reporting of such figures has become positively ho-hum in Washington. Seems like just another part of the background noise.

The perfunctory nature of the news story – and the fact that unless you were really looking for it, you probably missed it – underlies the reality that raising money is one of most common things people do these days in Washington. Parties do it. Presidents do it. Members of Congress do it. And every time they blast-fax those invitations around town (my colleague Bill Allison has been collecting them lately), the armies of the night emerge. Lobbyists, PAC directors, party loyalists and a host of others seeking to stay on the good side of the nation’s most powerful politicians dutifully turn out in their tuxes, dark suits and evening gowns, checks in hand.

So who are these guys? As it happens, you can find a continually updated list of who’s giving to the political parties at the OpenSecrets website of the Center for Responsive Politics.

Here’s what it shows:

Both parties are using their own members of Congress as key fundraisers. Among the 20 biggest contributors so far this election cycle to the Republican Party are no fewer than seven campaign committees of members of Congress, plus Straight Talk America, the leadership PAC run by Senator (and 2008 presidential prospect) John McCain.

The GOP’s top contributor so far – at $600,000 – is the Portman for Congress Committee. That’s the campaign fund of former Ohio Congressman Rob Portman, who resigned his seat last year to become the US Trade Representative.

If anything, the Democrats are even more dependent on using their members of Congress. Their own top 20 list includes nine members’ campaign committees, led by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada who so far has anted up $500,000.

One reason you’ll find so many campaign committees on both parties’ lists is that the demise of unlimited soft money contributions has made it harder for traditional givers to deliver the really big bucks. Members of Congress don’t have that problem, as they may transfer unlimited funds from their committees to the political parties.

And face it – plenty of members of Congress have an embarrassment of riches. Members on powerful committees can raise hundreds of thousands of dollars without breaking into a sweat, yet few of them really need that money to defend their seats. With control of Congress potentially hanging in the balance this year, they have every incentive to pass a little – or a lot – along to the party, which will spend it strategically in the November elections.

The parties’ top donor lists also include plenty of non-politicians, of course. Goldman Sachs, the preeminent Wall Street investment banking firm, shows up high on both lists – # 2 for the Republicans and #5 for the Democrats. Indeed, the financial sector – eager to make friends in Washington wherever it can – is the biggest patron of both parties.

Who else is loading the parties’ coffers? If you break it down by industry, you’re going to find plenty of overlap. Eight industries are in the top 10 of both parties (though not in the same order): retirees, real estate, securities & investment, candidate committees, health professionals, miscellaneous finance (including people who describe themselves generically as ‘investors’), lawyers and law firms, and business services.

Whoever wins the election in November, those industries – like Goldman Sachs – are going to have plenty of friends on both sides of the aisle. Their reliable attendance at those boring Washington fundraisers is a big reason why.

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