From hilarious to distasteful to some real head scratchers, politicians this year did their best to come up with attention grabbing fundraisers to keep the money rolling in. While Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) says members of Congress have to do a “soul crushing” amount of fundraising, these events at least livened up the money chase for those of us watching from the sidelines. Here are a few of the weirdest fundraisers we came across this year.
1. Old white guys at pop concerts
(Hey, no one said the lobbyists had to enjoy the music.)
It’s not often that you’ll find three men over the age of 50 at a pop concert, but Sen. Bob Casey (D-Penn.), Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.), and Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) each held a fundraiser at Beyoncé’s July visit to the Verizon Center in Washington, charging up to $5,000 to attend.
Maybe they told their friends it was a good idea, because when Lady Bey was back in town in December, Reps. Pete Sessions (R-Texas) and Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) were in the crowd raising money (leading to the use of this memorable gif).
Rep. Brett Guthrie (R-Ky.) must prefer his pop stars with a twinge of country, because he held his concert fundraiser at a May 12 Taylor Shift show. Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) helped his donors learn "The Truth About Love" at Pink's concert in March and Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) and his three kids hosted donors in a Verizon Center suite for "a family night at the Justin Bieber concert." Surprisingly, Sen. Bob Corker’s Rock City PAC didn’t appear to hold any events at major concerts.
2. Hunting alligators with Sen. David Vitter
Thanks to anemic coordination rules, if you had $5,000 to drop you could have spent the weekend with Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) at a “Lousiana Bayou Weekend” fundraiser for The Fund for Louisiana’s Future, the super PAC gearing up to support Vitter in his 2016 re-election race.
Not every politician who tried to raise money hunting alligators ended up pulling it off. Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) cancelled his $25,000 per person “private gator hunt” after questions were raised about how he would provide the necessary hunting licenses to all his donors, since alligator hunting licenses are limited to only 5,000 in the state and are supposed to be assigned by random lottery.
3. Fundraising off of international conflict
You’d think that whether or not the United States joins a military conflict isn’t the type of decision you’d try to raise campaign contributions from. Apparently, you’d be wrong.
Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Michigan candidate for U.S. Senate Terri Lynn Land, and Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.) all sent out emails in September stating their opposition to military intervention in Syria and asking their supporters to donate to their campaigns.
The blowback came quickly, but they didn’t take the criticism standing down. McConnell’s campaign said that his opponent’s complaint about the email was an attempt “to distract voters from her support of President Obama's Syria plan,” Land’s staff said the donate button on her email was standard to all their correspondence, and Grimm’s campaign blamed the move on a fundraising consultant.
Maybe it was a successful tactic, though. In December, Mitch McConnell was back at it with another email, this one promising to win the War on Christmas: “This War on Christmas is real, and it's unconstitutional. Please take a stand right now and chip-in with $50, $25, or $10 to help us protect Christmas.”
4. All aboard the “Finished Business”
It’s pretty ironic to use a ship called the Finished Business to raise money for members of a Congress “on track to go down as one of the most unproductive in modern history,” but that didn’t stop the National Marine Manufacturers Association’s Boat PAC
Over the summer, the PAC held fundraisers on the boat for Reps. Mike McIntyre (D-N.C.), Austin Scott (R-Ga.), Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), Andy Harris (R-Md.), Rob Wittman (R-Va.), Doug Collins ( and Lou Barletta (R-Pa.). Attendees could get on the ship with a check for $250,and ponying up $2,500 would get you named a “co-captain.”
5. A $1,000 hot dog
Sure, prices are higher in D.C. than in a lot of the country. But $1,000 for a hot dog? Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) held one of his semi-annual Chicago Hot Dog Receptions this September and it took a contribution of at least a grand to get in line for those hot dogs.
6. Teeni Weeni Bikini Martini Party
At most fundraisers, giving more money gets you more perks, like being named as part of the hosting committee. But Illinois State Rep. Barbara Wheeler's (R) "Teeni Weeni Bikini Martini Party" fundraiser turned that idea on its head. As donors’ gifts went up, the amount of fabric went down. Sponsorship levels included “one piece” ($250), “bikini” ($500), and “Speedo” ($1,000). Guests were advised to wear bikinis.
7. BYOG: “Bring Your Own Gun” fundraiser
We’ve all heard of BYOB events… but BYOG? Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) encouraged campaign donors to “bring your own gun” to his target practice event in at the Blue Ridge Arsenal in Chantilly, Va. A $1,000 gift was suggested for PACs and $250 for individuals, with guests asked to leave their shotguns at home. But not to worry, the hosts said they were happy to provide a gun to anyone who forgot theirs.
Rep. Harris wasn’t alone, either. Political Party Time counted at least 110 gun-related fundraisers that have been held in the past year. And maybe there’s something about Maryland? Maryland State Del. Don Dwyer (R) also stood out by taking the opportunity this April to raffle off two assault rifles, an AR-15 and AK-47, at his “Gun Rights and Liberty BBQ Gun Raffle, Auction & Strategy Meeting,” with raffle tickets going for $5 a pop.
Why it matters
While some of these fundraisers are pretty silly, the problem they represent is not. Often these events aren’t held in a member of Congress’s home state, and even if they are, most people can’t afford to attend. Being one of the few able to shell out the asking price for a high dollar fundraiser is a large part of the reason lobbyists and other special interest donors are able to get politicians to put their priorities ahead of the concerns of ordinary constituents.
Voters know it, too. A recent poll from Public Campaign Action Fund found that voters are five times as likely to think that campaign contributors are a top influence on members of Congress than to think their own concerns are being heard by their elected representatives. As long as elected officials must spend so much of their time fundraising, everyday Americans will be fighting an uphill battle to have their voices heard.