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In Ayotte-Hassan Race, Joint Fundraising Helps in Hunt for National Campaign Cash


Spend any time around Sen. Kelly Ayotte or Gov. Maggie Hassan nowadays, and you'll hear repeated assurances that while it may be election season, they remain wholly dedicated to serving New Hampshire.

But take a look at either’s fundraising books in their race for the U.S. Senate, and you'll find plenty of proof that both are also focusing further afield.

How far afield? Florida. Texas. California. In short, wherever there’s money to be had.

Both Ayotte, the Republican incumbent, and Hassan, her Democratic challenger, are making use of what are known as Joint Fundraising Committees, or JFCs, to pad their campaign coffers this year. It's a strategy that, so far, has resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars of out-of-state cash pouring into the race.

JFCs are a growing and efficient way for candidates to cast a wider net for cash, getting money from big-money donors who might not otherwise write them a check.

Typically, Joint Fundraising Committees involve several candidates from a single political party teaming up to divide contributions received from a handful of deep-pocketed donors. Sometimes political parties themselves benefit from JFC donations. But more often, especially in Ayotte and Hassan's cases, candidates in close races use JFCs to scoop up donations from across the country in quick fundraising bursts.

Credit Sara Plourde, NHPR
Both Sen. Kelly Ayotte and Gov. Maggie Hassan are taking advantage of Joint Fundraising Committees to gather campaign contributions from a wider group of big-money donors in their race for the Senate this year. While Ayotte has used this strategy for several years, Hassan has just gotten started. (Source: Federal Election Commission)

David Levinthal, with the Center for Public integrity, says Senate candidates from small states like New Hampshire can end up getting upwards 90 percent of their campaign donations from out-of-state donors. And Joint Fundraising Committees let big donors sprinkle money into multiple races with a single contribution.

“You can have somebody walk in the door, write a big check, and put a much larger dollar figure on the bottom line than if you were just individually giving to a candidate," Levinthal says. 

That’s because in joint fundraising, candidates act collectively. They share donor lists, hold events, and solicit by mail, together. The money can be split any which way, so long as no candidate takes more than $2,700 from any donor in a single election. Factor in a two-year-old Supreme Court ruling that struck down the aggregate limit on what donors can give in an election cycle, and you can see why candidates in big races -- and big donors -- see joint fundraising as a good option.

“What we’ve seen us a proliferation of Joint Fundraising Committees, because parties and candidates are finding every way possible to raise money and this gives them another vehicle to do that," says Eric Heberling, a political scientist at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte.

Credit Sara Plourde, NHPR
Most of Gov. Maggie Hassan's Joint Fundraising Committees benefit multiple fellow Democrats running for U.S. Senate this year. Finance records for the Silicon Valley Victory 2016 committee illustrate how the candidates divvy up large-dollar donations from a single fund. (Source: Federal Election Commission)

Credit Sara Plourde, NHPR
Sen. Kelly Ayotte has teamed up with other incumbent Republican senators in most of her Joint Fundraising Committees. For example, with the Ayotte-Daines Committee, in which Ayotte joined with Sen. Steve Daines of Montana, Ayotte ultimately benefited from cash donated by a handful of Montana business owners. (Source: Federal Election Commission)

According to FEC filings, ten JFCs have Ayotte listed as a beneficiary. There are nine helping Hassan. So far, Ayotte’s received about a half million dollars from JFCs – that’s more than twice Hassan’s haul. But six of the pro-Hassan JFCs have gotten going since March, and several have yet to collect a dime. That will surely change over the coming weeks.

And once the money does come in, don’t expect it to be easy to follow, particularly if this race remains close and the flow of cash from national donors and Political Action Committees speeds up.  According to the Center for Public Integrity’s Levinthal, following the money as it sluices through JFCs is a lot easier said than done.

“You have so many committees involved and so many people donating, sometimes you find yourself going blind trying to figure out where the money has come from, where the money is and where the money is going," Levinthal says. "They don’t exactly make it easy to figuring out the cash flow."

But so long as they continue to make it easy to generate cash flow for candidates, JFCs will likely keep multiplying.

Map: Committee Funds Raised for N.H.'s Senate Race by State

Choose the tab for either Ayotte or Hassan and then click on a highlighted state to see the amount raised by each candidate's Joint Fundraising Committees.*  For a better experience on mobile, turn your device sideways. 

*The dollar amounts represent the total amount raised by each JFC in that state. In most cases, Ayotte and Hassan then split that amount with other candidates. (Source: Federal Election Commission)

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