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While Rand Paul Paints Himself as Washington Outsider, Fundraising Activity Shows Otherwise

Alix Mattingly

A research group that compiles political fundraising invitations from around the country found that U.S. Sen. Rand Paul’s fundraising efforts provide a snapshot into the junior senator’s campaign that is different from his rhetoric.

According to Political Party Time, an arm of the Sunlight Foundation, “Paul has thrown 26 get-togethers to benefit his own campaign coffers…. [and] of that tally, more than half have taken place in Washington, D.C.”

During his presidential run announcement on Tuesday, Paul portrayed his candidacy as an effort to change Washington from the outside. He criticized D.C. politics and said special interests hold too much power in the nation’s capitol.

“We have come to take our country back from the special interests that use Washington as their personal piggy bank, the special interests that are more concerned with their personal welfare than the general welfare,” he told a large room of supporters in Louisville this week.

Paul assured the crowd his campaign would be different.

“Too often when Republicans have won, we have squandered our victory by becoming part of the Washington machine,” he said. “That’s not who I am.”

Palmer Gibbs, a reporter at Political Party Time, said her crowd-sourced research paints a very different picture. She said according to her data, during his stint as a U.S. Senator, Paul has held a lot of D.C. fundraisers for himself, as well as fundraisers for others in D.C.

In the fast few years, Paul has headlined 75 fundraisers for other candidates since September 2011— nine in Iowa and nine New Hampshire, according to Gibbs.

“That number is quite high,” she said.  As a point of comparison, she said, President Barack Obama has headlined about 107 fundraisers in the same amount of time.

Paul's campaign did not respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.

Political Party Time’s database isn’t exhaustive. Campaigns aren’t required by law to disclose fundraising events, just donations made during them. Gibbs said this means her database sometimes is only the “tip of the iceberg.”

Palmer also points out that kind of activity is a common sign in Washington that someone is seeking higher office.

“Rand Paul is doing a lot of partying for other people,” she said. “What we know is that that engenders a lot of support down the road… It’s really significant.”

Gibbs said what’s most interesting, though, is Paul’s fundraising efforts for his own campaign coffers. She said Paul has held 26 events aimed at raising money for his own political campaigns.

“More than half of those have taken place in Washington—in the Beltway,” Gibbs explained.

Among the long list of venues in D.C., is Johnny’s Half Shell, which Gibbs said is “spitting distance from Capitol Hill.” She said Paul’s also had events at BGR Group, a lobbying firm in D.C. founded by former Mississippi Governor and former Republican National Committee Chairman Haley Barbour.

In July 2013, Paul held a fundraising event at Altria, which is the parent company of three major tobacco companies—including Phillip Morris.

Gibbs said that at this particular event, “there were a lot of hosts that were pretty deep in the Washington-insider game.”

The Sunlight Foundation is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that uses the data tools, analysis and journalism to make government more accountable and transparent.

As someone who plays close attention to how candidates raise money, Gibbs said it’s not unusual for someone interested in higher office to raise a lot of money where they spend a lot of their time. Candidates who currently hold a federal office spend a lot of their time in Washington.

Gibbs said is not surprising that Paul would be holding or attending a lot of fundraising events in D.C. proper. However, she points out specifically where in D.C. he is attending fundraising events is what interests her.

“You know, he’s had them with lobbying shops and at law firms and at Google’s downtown D.C. office and at a huge tobacco company,” she noted.


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