After taking a hard look at the candidates who work with BMW Direct, the conservative Washington political firm that appears to keep a lot of the money it raises on behalf of other people, we've found an interesting pattern.
The firm appears to have two different types of clients.
For some candidates -- the little known longshots who are challenging incumbents -- the firm raises considerable amounts of money with nationwide mailings and spends almost all of that money on its own direct mail campaign. The monies raised by BMW go into the campaign's accounts then are quickly expended with various fees back to BMW or its affiliates, usually by the end of the same FEC reporting period.
For other candidates -- ones who are already in office and have a substantial campaign operation -- the firm appears to charge less in fees and does not allow expenses to eat up all the money pulled in. These candidates actually have some cash on hand at the end of the reporting period.
For example, take a look at Rep. Geoff Davis, the Republican from Kentucky. According to his most recent quarterly FEC report, he spent a lot of money on direct mail expenses -- $88,674.56 -- during the first quarter. But that was less than 60 percent of his total expenses. Davis also appears to have other normal campaign activity, where he is paying people in his home district for "administrative support," rent, catering campaign events, and paying mobile phone bills. (And $1,521 worth of tickets to the Kentucky Derby.)
And most importantly, while most of his campaign contributions were from outside his district -- presumably the haul from a nationwide direct mail campaign -- he actually had money left over at the end of the quarter - a net gain of $73,750.62. It's also very clear that Davis. a two-term incumbent from a district with a lot of Democrats, has an established campaign in place. That additional money added to his overall war chest for a total of $724,286.
Another client who appears to do routine business with BMW Direct is Rep. Virgil Goode (R-VA). He's actually facing a tough race this year. Goode spent $69,852 on direct-mail related expenses in April and May. But he took in a total of $136,909, including a lot donations from inside his own state. And Goode still has more than $600,000 on hand.
The upstarts don't fare as well with BMW Direct. We've already told you about Deborah Travis Honeycutt down in Georgia. There are a few others like her.
For example, Duane Sand, a little known Republican from North Dakota. His filings show he raised more than $300,000 during the first quarter and also spent more than $300,000. In the end he had less than $40,000 on hand. Almost all of his money came from out of state. And his expenditures show that more than 90 percent of his expenses were related to the direct-mail campaign, or $360,681.77 out of the total expenses of $389,501.01 spent for the quarter.
It's the same with Russell Williams, a retired Army lieutenant colonel and Republican running for office in Pennsylvania. He's challenging Rep. John Murtha (D-PA). During the first quarter, he only held on to about 13 percent of his money, raising $222,071.09 and spending $193,606.89, almost all of that money going to direct-mail expenses. Russell's campaign treasurer is Scott Mackenzie of BMW Direct.
Typically, direct-mail fundraisers take at least 30 percent of the fees raised. So even for the office holders, BMW Direct looks pricey. But at least they actually get some return on the deal. Some of those longshots aren't so lucky.