By Paul Brochu, Stamp Stampede Lead Organizer
I’ve had a lot of interesting conversations while working for the Stamp Stampede. Last week, one of them was with a woman who used to do political fundraising for a US congressman.
She gave me an “insider’s view” of the recent settlement between Congressman Frank Guinta and the Federal Election Commission. After a four-year investigation, the Guinta campaign agreed in April to pay a $15,000 fine and refund a $355,000 loan.
The former fundraiser’s first point was that Guinta really benefitted from the timing of the announcement.
She said that under normal circumstances, the FEC investigation should have been a career-ender. The $15,000 “administrative penalty” is a high fine, by FEC standards. Only six other House campaigns have ever received higher fines – and only one of those candidates is currently a Congressman.
But the agreement was released early in Guinta’s two-year term of office. Yes, there was a flurry of media coverage after the announcement, but that’s already beginning to die down. And New Hampshire is in the throes of a #FITN primary season featuring two dozen presidential candidates.
“If I was Frank Guinta and I couldn’t persuade the FEC to drop their investigation,” she said, “then I would take an enforcement agreement and get it public using exactly this same timing. It’s basic campaign strategy: we call it ‘inoculation.’ If you can’t make a problem go away, then you get it out in the press early so it will be old news by the time the election rolls around.”
Her second point was more troubling. At the end of last year, Guinta’s campaign had a cash-on-hand balance that was just barely enough to pay the FEC fine – and not anywhere near enough to pay back the $355,000. Then there was a flurry of high-dollar fundraising in the first quarter of this year.
“It looks to me like that $300,000 in Q1 fundraising made it possible for the Guinta campaign to sign the FEC agreement and get the investigation over with,” she said. “But I have to wonder. What got promised in return for all those donations?”
“Political fundraising is like hunting, it has seasons,” she explained. “You don’t usually fundraise right after an election. Donors have just given; and you don’t want to seem greedy, you don’t want go back to the same well so soon.”
After the 2012 election, Guinta’s campaign didn’t report any contributions at all until nine months into the next election cycle. But this time around, donors were “maxing out” almost immediately after the 2014 election – and they were giving the maximum donation not just for next year’s primary, but also for the 2016 general election.
“What were all those donors thinking? Or, rather, what did they know?” she sked me. “These are sophisticated donors. They didn’t just wake up the last week in March and all decide to send large sums of money to the Guinta campaign. It’s pretty obvious that the campaign solicited the money, and the timing of that solicitation must have raised some eyebrows. If you’re fundraising out-of-season, there’s a reason. And I can’t believe that no one asked what that reason was.”
Did former New Hampshire Governor Craig Benson know about the then-pending FEC enforcement agreement? On March 31st, he “maxed out” for a general election that was still 18 months away. The previous cycle, Benson made his general election contribution just three weeks before the election.
What about the folks at the Koch Industries PAC? They donated $5,000 on March 27th. Last time, they didn’t start contributing until much later in the election cycle.
Did the “Friends of John Boehner” question the timing? The Guinta campaign reported receiving donations on March 20th for both the 2016 primary and the 2016 general election. Last time around, the Friends of John Boehner didn’t donate anything at all until two weeks after the primary.
“I just wonder what was behind all those super-early donations,” the woman told me. “I’ve done the ‘Dialing for Dollars’ thing during the off-season, myself. Donors asked ‘What’s going on, why are you calling me now?’
“And after I answered,” she said, “they’d tell me what they wanted my boss to do.”
She’s had enough of political fundraising and, like tens of thousands of other Americans, she’s now part of the Stamp Stampede. She’s working to #GetMoneyOut of politics by legally rubber-stamping anti-corruption messages on US currency. Her favorite stamp says “Not to be Used for Bribing Politicians.”
“It’s just crazy,” she said. “You’re there in your little cubicle making notes on the call sheet, what the donors care about, even the specific bill numbers. And you don’t ever tell them ‘no’.”
The Stamp Stampede is tens of thousands of Americans legally stamping messages on our nation’s currency to #GetMoneyOut of Politics. As more and more stamped money spreads, so will the movement to amend the Constitution and overturn Citizens United.
You can get your own stamp online at www.stampstampede.org. Or, if you’re a member of CWA, you can get a stamp from your LPAT coordinator. The average stamped bill is seen by 875 people – which makes stamping a highly-effective way to get the message out about how money in politics is corrupting our government.
It’s time to #GetMoneyOut of politics and take back our government.