About 10 blocks from the U.S. Capitol is a townhouse office with the kind of generic name you expect to find in Washington: Capitol Compliance Associates. It doesn’t seem like the kind of place that would help North Carolina Democrats funnel tens of thousands of dollars to their campaigns.
Capitol Compliance is involved with a fundraising effort that sounds like a band that performs at weddings, Swing NC. In reality it is a joint fundraiser between four Democrats running for the U.S. House and Senate: Kathy Manning, Patricia Timmons-Goodson, Cal Cunningham and Deborah Ross.
I stumbled across Swing NC, and then Capitol Compliance, when I was going through Ross’s campaign finance records for The 9th Street Journal. (She is running for the 2nd Congressional District, which is in Wake County.) It took days for me to unpack what this group entails and their money and I’m still not completely sure about the details. (I’ll update this story as needed!)
But I’m sure about this: our campaign finance system is a messy tangle of groups and bundlers and it’s difficult for anyone to make sense of it. The laws that govern the system are supposed to bring transparency to political contributions. But in practice it is hard to know the source of money and where it goes.
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This was the largest sum of money, out of 2,876 contributions, made to her campaign other than the $57,783 leftover from her 2016 Senate race.
This was the first mystery for me. According to the Federal Election Commission contribution limits, the largest donation to an individual candidate committee is $5,000 per election from multicandidate PACs, local party committees or national party committees. Individual donations are capped at $2,800.
Yet Swing NC contributed $43,795 and $6,539.17 on May 27 and $2,935 and $68.75 on June 30.
In the spirit of transparency, all candidates must report their contributions and disbursements in filings leading up to Election Day.
I wondered why Swing NC was able to give beyond the allowed amount and, to add to the mystery, I found virtually no information about them.
If you do a Google search for Swing NC, the first result will tell you to “find your swing” — at a 45-acre paddle and racquet sport campus that is coming to Raleigh in 2022.
Ross could be a racquet sport enthusiast for all I know, but I ruled out the Swing NC sports complex as the source of her substantial campaign donation.
At this point in my search, with nearly 25 tabs open and my computer fan hissing at me, I found the original FEC filings from Swing NC. The group’s filing statement of organization would solve the mystery, I hoped.
It provided some answers, but also raised new questions.
It turns out that Swing NC is a joint fundraising committee between Ross, Cunningham, Manning and Timmons-Goodson. The organizers filed to be a committee on March 3 and have raised $192,615 and spent $10,543.39, as of June 30.
It is a collaboration between the four candidates to raise money, but it doesn’t have a website, team or much communication about the effort.
The report listed a Washington D.C. address, and it clarified that the group is a joint fundraiser. It also mentioned Judy Zamore, who was listed as the custodian of records and treasurer.
Those were important clues.
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So what is a joint fundraising committee and why would these four candidates opt into it?
To answer this question, I sought out Andrew Mayersohn, a researcher at the Center of Responsive Politics, a non-partisan group that tracks money in U.S. politics. He pointed me to their glossary of terms, which explains that the joint committees are a convenient way to raise money together. A committee can include two or more candidates, political parties (or both).
Think of it like a co-hosted fundraising party (or parties). The group hosts events together, splits the costs and, ultimately splits the gifts that the guests bring (the donations).
When I called Mayersohn, he told me this is a common practice in campaign finance.
A joint fundraising committee is not a loophole to accept larger campaign donations, he said. Individuals can still give no more than $2,800 per candidate in the committee, regardless if they are donating directly to the candidate or through the team. With four candidates joined together in Swing NC the maximum individual donation is $11,200 to the team.
But it’s easier for campaign contributors this way. Rather than receiving four separate calls or emails from Ross, Manning, Timmons-Goodson and Cunningham, the contributors just get one. This is all about efficiency.
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Alan Swain, Ross’s Republican challenger, probably wishes he had his own Swing NC. He is alone in his fundraising efforts and is struggling. For every dollar Ross has raised, Swain has less than a nickel. He has raised a total of $53,867.13, compared with her $1.3 million.
Put another way: The Swing NC collaboration alone has raised about the same amount as Swain has raised from all sources.
The address listed for Swing NC is Capitol Compliance’s townhouse. Zamore, who signed the FEC documents, happens to be the principal and founder of the firm as well.
Her bio indicates she is a skilled political fundraiser with more than 14 years of experience. This election cycle, Zamore served as chief financial officer in Sen. Cory Booker’s presidential campaign. Under her direction, Booker raised a record $1.35 million in just 36 hours towards the end of his campaign in Iowa.
Throughout the 2020 election cycle Capitol Compliance is tracking $3.2 million to 130 campaigns, funds and PACs helping candidates up and down ballots. Other clients include Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts and U.S. Rep. Lauren Underwood of Illinois, who are both running for reelection.
Mayersohn clarified that Capitol Compliance is not raising funds on the candidates’ behalf, but instead is just filing FEC reports for the Swing NC team.
“There’s a lot of ins and outs to filing FEC reports and these are the people who are very familiar with them,” Mayersohn said.
Hiring an outside firm to manage these regulations is a common practice, he said.
“It is the same reason that you would use an accounting firm or anything for any other purpose,” he said. “It’s their specialized expertise on how to handle loans and things like that.”
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The list of donors to Swing NC ranges from ecologists in San Francisco, to people who are unemployed. Donations started at $100 and were capped at the maximum individual donation of $11,200. There are 181 donations listed on the FEC itemized receipts filing.
In Ross’s FEC filings, the Swing NC contributions are listed under lump payments. If you want to look into individual donors, you have to go to the joint committee’s filing, which is where I found more details on who was contributing to this four-way team.
But that means if you’re a citizen of the 2nd Congressional District and you want to find out who gave to Ross through Swing NC, you need to do the detective work I did.
I am still unsure if candidates solicit these donations, or if these committees are well known or if individuals know their funds will be split four ways when donating to Swing NC.
When I called Capitol Compliance to ask, they were not particularly eager to help me untangle this. Neither was the Ross campaign.
I called Capitol Compliance and was told I would receive a follow up from “compliance” (a department there?) with more information.
At Ross’s campaign, my question about the formation and existence of Swing NC was met with silence.
Eight days later, I have yet to receive a call back from either of them.
Staff writer Michaela Towfighi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org