The Best of Bizarro Political Fundraising: Gators, Hand Guns, Ping Pong and More

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Robin Harper / Invision for Parkwood Entertainment / AP

Beyonce performs during her "Mrs. Carter Show World Tour 2013", July 29, 2013 at the Verizon Center in Washington, DC.

With the 2014 campaign expected to shatter previous midterm election spending records, now is the time for politicians to start shaking the money tree ever harder.

But not all money trees look the same. Some involve ping pong, others alligators. Some employ the fierce vocals of Beyonce Knowles, others the firepower of a Barrett M107 .50BMG combat rifle. Office seekers are pulling out all the stops to come up with an event that both shows the candidate’s “authenticity” and demonstrates his or her bona fide partying skills.   We thought some of their efforts deserved recognition. Here is a look at some of the best and worst of political fundraising gimmickry.

Best Gator Hunt

Perhaps the best gator hunt would have been the one planned as a fundraiser for Florida Republican Governor Rick Scott, but it was cancelled.  The $25,000 a person gator hunt had been scheduled for the fall, but complications arose.  Florida limits the number of permits for this sort of hunt and the few that are issued are done so through a lottery.  It would have required an awful lot of luck—and some explaining— for the Florida Republican Party, the sponsor of the hunt, to score permits for every donor to the governor’s campaign.

But nearby in Louisiana where more alligators reside than in any other state, a fundraising hunt for the reptile pest at $5,000 a head went forward.  The Fund for Louisiana’s Future, a Super PAC that supports Senator David Vitter (R-La.), threw a “Louisiana Bayou Weekend” promising “Cajun Cooking, Airboat Swamp Tour and Alligator Hunt” with special guest, Senator Vitter.  A photo posted on Vitter’s Facebook page showed the star attraction surrounded by a bloody pile of dead gators.

Best Way to Kill Three Birds with One Stone

Now that Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) has finished his 21-hour marathon speech advocating for the defunding of the Affordable Care Act, he will be free to selflessly combine three October fundraising events for others in one visit to Iowa.  He will deliver the keynote address at the annual Ronald Reagan Commemorative Dinner benefitting the Iowa GOP, speak at Rep. Steve King’s (R-Iowa) annual Defenders of Freedom fundraiser, and join King for a pheasant hunt fundraiser, also on behalf of King. The pheasant hunt is a rite of passage for conservative candidates prior to the Iowa caucuses. Both Texas Governor Rick Perry and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum hunted pheasants with Rep. King prior to the 2012 Iowa caucuses.

Best Bang for your Bucks

Minnesota Republican state Rep. Cindy Pugh drew donors with a “Get Your Carry Permit With Cindy” fundraiser.  Donors could contribute to her campaign and simultaneously complete the short training course that is required by the state for applicants for a permit to carry a handgun in Minnesota.  “This is an idea that my campaign team came up with as we were brainstorming ways to connect with my voters and my constituents and just heighten awareness about issues that are important,” said Pugh.

Best Concert

Beyonce proved to be a Sasha Fierce bipartisan draw this summer.  Senator Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Senator Bob Casey (D-Pa.) and Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) all held fundraisers at the Verizon Center around the “Mrs. Carter World Tour.”  We don’t know what donors to the Casey or Shimkus campaigns had to pony up for the coveted tickets, but Tim Kaine’s campaign asked for $5,000.

Worst Scheduling Conflict

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi asked Governor Rick Scott to postpone the execution of a man who murdered two young women because it conflicted with her re-election kick-off event on September 9. When word of the changed execution date went public, Bondi conceded she should not have asked for a delay.”The planned execution of Marshall Lee Gore had already been stayed twice by the courts, and we absolutely should not have requested that the date of the execution be moved.” This week the state’s chief law enforcement officer promised she would never again postpone an execution for a campaign event.

Best Use of Topspin Since Ping Pong Diplomacy

Susan Sarandon hosted a $50 per person fundraiser for NY Democratic mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio at her Ping-Pong bar, SPIN, last month.  De Blasio lost in a fierce battle with his popular and telegenic son, Dante, but not before he engaged in a little trash talk, saying of the 15-year old,  “He’s all hair.  No talent.”

Best Shooting Gimmick

There are plenty of shooting events to raise campaign cash, but this one distinguished itself by offering a variety of firearms along with two mystery rifles.  A fundraiser invites participants to take a variety of shots on behalf of long shot Republican candidate for Senator from New Jersey, Steve Lonegan.  (Lonegan is rising in the polls but still trails Cory Booker by 12 points.) The event, hosted by the New Jersey Second Amendment Society, promised “a chance to try out some unique firearms while contributing to the Lonegan bid” and the donation is based on your choice of weapon.

A donation of $125 got you five rounds on the Barrett M107 .50BMG, a rifle described by the manufacturer as “driven by the demands of combat.” Or for $20 you could shoot ten rounds off of a Ruger 10/22 .22, ideal “for informal target shooting, ‘plinking,’ small game hunting and action-shooting events.”

Worst Entertainment

What could be more fun than listening to friends warble through Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger?” How about paying to hand the microphone over to Rep. Mike Honda (D-Ca.) for an evening of karaoke? In fairness, his voice is kind of sweet. A staffer says the former Peace Corp volunteer who became fluent in Spanish while serving in El Salvador, favors songs sung in Spanish, especially those of Mexican singer “Chente” Fernandez.  The evening will  cost you from $40 to 1,000 for VIP seating and placement in the rotation.

Best Gathering of the Most Presidential Contenders (Outside of the Democrats’ Annual Iowa Steak Fry)

A fundraiser for the Republican National Committee co-hosted by New Jets owner Woody Johnson and RNC Chairman Reince Preibus boasted at least four potential presidential candidates. The line up included:  New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, Senators Marco Rubio of Florida and Rand Paul of Kentucky.

Worst Political GPS  

Newark Mayor Cory Booker was set to be in San Francisco for a fundraiser sponsored by San Francisco Young Professionals for Cory Booker on the same night as a Jersey City rally for his campaign. The New Jersey event was to be headlined by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop. When the Lonegan campaign got wind of the scheduling conflict, Rick Shaftan, a senior adviser to Republican candidate Steve Lonegan responded, “Of all the years I’ve been in politics, I’ve never heard of candidates not showing up to their own campaign rallies.” Tragically a mass shooting in Chicago forced Emanuel to cancel and the New Jersey event was postponed.

Best Festivus Celebration

This holiday soiree rated #1 mainly because we don’t know of any other Festivus fundraisers.  House Majority Leader Eric Cantor hosted this annual reception in 2010 and 2011 to benefit his ERIC PAC.  And just like the fictional holiday (for the rest of us) created by George Costanza’s father on Seinfeld, the celebration includes beloved family traditions such as a chance to “air your grievances” and the opportunity to attempt “feats of strength.”  If both freshmen Senator Ted Cruz and Senator John McCain show up, things could get interesting.