The Sunlight Foundation has this report from the front lines of Congressional fundraising skulduggery.
Longtime Democratic lawmaker Maxine Waters has perfected an unusual tactic for fundraising over the years – getting candidates, including some of California’s most prominent political figures, running for state and local offices, to pay as much as $45,000 for her endorsement on election mailers. In this election cycle alone, Waters has raised 59 percent of her campaign’s treasury through these “slate mailers.”
Under a bizarre a legal loophole, money given for a sold endorsement does not count as a “contribution” under federal election laws, so the normal rules restricting the size and source of donations do not apply. Waters is able to pad her accounts with what looks like indirect contributions from unions and corporations.
I dare anyone to make an argument that this is a legitimate loophole with any describable public purpose. Really. Try.
UPDATE: An aide to Congresswoman Waters contacted me to take me up on the above bet, and actually made a good case. At minimum, I made a mistake by failing to contact Waters office before posting this blog item. There are some key facts that it left out. Most importantly, the aide points out, that all the money raised by Waters from other campaigns for the endorsements must be used to pay for the mailer. “It’s not a fundraising tool,” says the aide. “These dollars don’t stay in her account. All money that comes in has to go back out — for the slate.” That means that my suggestion above, that Waters was using the slate loophole to fund other parts of her campaign is wrong.
UPDATE II: That said, some of the money for the slate mailers has been channeled back into the Waters’ family. The Los Angeles Times reported in 2004 that Karen Waters, the congresswoman’s daughter, made money putting together the slates. As Melanie Sloan of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington put it at the time, “It looks like congresswoman Waters is using her position to financially benefit her family members, and that is at the very least unethical. . . You shouldn’t be making money off your mother’s endorsements.” As of 2004, the LA Times found that Karen Waters had made about $450,000 by pulling together the slate mailers, while her brother Edward, a high school basketball coach “and sometime political consultant” made about $115,000.