Fundraising Firm Says Big Fees Are Standard

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Raising millions in campaign cash on behalf of someone else and spending almost the same amount on the fundraising process itself is just part of the business, according to staffers at the firm BMW Direct.

The company recently explained to ProPublica that even if a candidate doesn’t actually keep much of the money, it’s building a “donor file.”

“One of things you do when you go out prospecting is build a donor file and that costs money,” Scott Mackenzie, a consultant for BMW Direct and Chavez-Ochoa’s campaign treasurer, said. “Once you build a house file and start mailing to the list, that’s when you start making the money.”

“We don’t feel it’s right that all these candidates should run unopposed,” said Mackenzie, and direct mail is the “only way if a candidate doesn’t have name recognition or personal finances to run their campaigns.”

Where would the little guys be without the help of firms like BMW Direct?

“We like working with people who are long shots,” Jordan Gerhke, the firm’s director of development, said. If not for the firm’s efforts to help little-known candidates, only “a bunch of millionaires” would be able to afford a run, he said.

BMW even recruits some of those longshot candidates. For example, ProPublica found Brian Chavez-Ochoa who briefly ran against Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) in 2006. How did this obscure candidate get into the race?

“I was asked by a group in D.C. to put my hat in the ring, so I did,” he told ProPublica. That group was BMW Direct, which proceeded to raise — and spend — more than $220,000 on his behalf.

It may not be new, but that doesn’t mean donors like it.