Some of you may have had the same “wtf?” moment that I did upon seeing James’s Q1 Cash-on-Hand Competitiveness from a few months ago: the Democratic representative who was in the deepest fundraising hole vis-à-vis his or her opponent wasn’t Carol Shea-Porter or Nancy Boyda or Tim Mahoney… it was David Scott, sitting in GA-13, a safe black-majority district in Atlanta’s suburbs. He was being outraised by Deborah Honeycutt, who had actually raised 105% of CoH that Scott had.
There’s a not-so-simple explanation at work here: GA-13 is ground zero for the efforts of a shadowy Republican direct-mail group called BMW Direct that specializes in using national fundraising appeals on behalf of conservative candidates at the local level. Josh Marshall summed up BMW’s agenda succinctly:
finding nonsense Republican candidates in hopeless races, raising tons of money for their hopeless campaigns and then funneling all the money back to themselves and sundry contractors and cronies.
Honeycutt has posted some remarkable fundraising numbers, raising $1.7 million this cycle ($500,000 of that in Q1 alone), and burned through $1.5 million of it. (This despite being the 2006 candidate, and losing to Scott by a 69-31 margin as a result of having “no presence” locally.) The odd thing is: only $16,695 of that money got spent on the ground in Georgia. The rest simply disappeared into BMW’s internal operations, or got farmed out to BMW contractors for activities like data processing and list rentals.
The Boston Globe broke the story, focusing on Charles Morse’s 2006 race against Barney Frank. Morse raised $700,000 for the race in MA-04 via BMW’s direct-mailing efforts, but 96% of that money, rather than being spent in the district, was paid to BMW. The net result of Morse’s amazing fundraising? He won a total of 145 votes in the primary, failing to qualify for the general election.
BMW does apparently help a few legitimate officeholders (including Robin Hayes and Jim Ryun), but their efforts mostly seem to center on fleecing low-information right-wing grannies to give money to invest in candidates on the basis of flimsy appeals, all the while knowing that the candidates are going nowhere and running bare-bones campaigns, allowing them to keep almost all the money for themselves. (As several TPM commenters pointed out, this is almost exactly the plot line from The Producers.) Rarely has there ever been such a clear illustration of the giant pyramid scheme that is the Republican Party.