Money for political candidates: Where does it come from? Where d - FOX 10 News |

Money for political candidates: Where does it come from? Where does it go?

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M.L. Elrick Investigation
Fox 2 Detroit

Raising money is sometimes an unpleasant fact of life in our political system. Without cash, how does a candidate campaign? But, there's another side of the story.

Who is really raising that cash? Where are they getting it? And where does it really end up?

VIDEO: Click on the video in the video player above to watch Fox 2's M.L. Elrick's investigation, or read the transcript below


These folks are great about asking for your money -- but they're not so keen to get your opinion.

These Washington money men make their living off political contributions, many of them from retirees and senior citizens who have no idea just how little of their hard-earned money ends up going to the candidates and causes they believe in.

ELRICK TO MACKENZIE: Are you preying on the elderly?
SCOTT MACKENZIE: ((LAUGHS)) You're a good one.

For more than a decade Scott Mackenzie, Base Connect and their partners have raised millions for candidates like Rocky Raczkowski of Michigan and tens of millions for causes like the Conservative Strikeforce and Black Republican PAC.

The issue isn't their political views, it's what happens to the money.

Since 2010, the Conservative Strikeforce has raised nearly $10 million. More than $9 million of the loot was paid to the fundraisers. That means candidates got less than 8 percent of the money donors sent in.

In a letter hitting up a 93-year-old woman for dough, the Black Republican PAC claimed that it stretches every dollar "farther than any other group out there."

Yet less than 10 percent of the $4.5 million the PAC has raked in since 2008 was spent on issues and candidates, and some of that money went to this white woman. (At least she's a Republican.)

Base Connect says it takes money to make money and it's hard to make back all the dough they spend on direct mail, especially when their candidate doesn't win.

But what about when their candidate doesn't even run?

In Michigan, Base Connect collected $1 million to support Rocky Raczkowski for races he never ran. It happened more often than you might think. Base Connect raised a half-million bucks for Duane Sand of North Dakota for the 2010 elections. There was just one problem: he didn't end up running. In 2012, Base Connect raised a cool million for Sharron Angle of Nevada but she didn't appear on a ballot, either.

Base Connect says it's not their fault that people who say they're going to run for office change their mind.  

The first time Base Connect raised money for a race Raczkowski didn't run was in 2007. Raczkowski says he didn't run against Senator Carl Levin because he was recalled to active military duty. Meanwhile, almost every cent Base Connect raised was spent on - wait for it - raising money.

ELRICK TO RACZKOWSKI: For the 2008 election cycle, Base Connect, Scott Mackenzie and those companies raised almost a quarter million in your name.
RACZKOWSKI: Wow. Wow, and I was overseas.
ELRICK: You're not aware of this.
RACZKOWSKI: I do not believe that we talked with them in 2008.

Base Connect says Raczkowski's memory is mistaken and they sent me this fundraising contract signed by Raczkowski.

Base Connect raised even more dough so Raczkowski could have a rematch with Congressman Gary Peters in 2012. They hauled in more than three-quarters of a million dollars, but Raczkowski never ran and almost all the money ended up going to - surprise - Base Connect and their partners.

RACZKOWSKI: We shut down that campaign. We were under the belief that we shut down that campaign.

ELRICK: They never asked you in 2011 or 2012, 'Rocky, can we raise money on your behalf?'"
RACZKOWSKI: We told them not to. For many times.

Again, Base Connect recalls it differently, providing me these e-mails they sent to Raczkowski in 2011 and 2012 updating him on their fundraising efforts for the 2012 campaign.

Here in Salem, Ohio, Ken Schrom is upset with Raczkowski.

SCHROM: I'd call him a sleaze right to his face.

Schrom says his contribution was supposed to help Raczkowski change Washington, not end up as spare change in some fundraiser's pocket.

That seems like something the man who counts the money for Raczkowski's campaigns should answer for. In fact, he counts the money for dozens of candidates and causes that end up spending most of the funds they raise on the people who raise the funds.

The address Mackenzie uses comes back to this box in a UPS store in Arlington, Virginia. That made me curious how a man big enough to handle all these campaigns could fit in such a small place.

((Elrick calls Mackenzie and asks for an interview. Mackenzie hangs up on Elrick.))

ELRICK: Looks like we're going to Washington.

ELRICK TO MACKENZIE: You should know better than to hang up on a guy from Detroit. We don't take no for an answer.

ELRICK: You were involved in a campaign that raised three quarters of a million for Rocky Raczkowski yet he never even ran for office. How does that help a conservative cause?

ELRICK: Listen to what Scott Nowicki has to say. You've raised money from his 93-year-old mother. He wants you to leave her alone. Will you leave her alone, please?
MACKENZIE: I don't know his mother.
ELRICK: You've taken a lot of her money.

Mackenzie says he doesn't ask for the money, his long-time associates at Base Connect do. Base Connect says they target seniors because they are ones who still open snail mail and, more importantly, write checks.

ELRICK: Will you listen to Mr. Schrom? He's a veteran! Please! Don't you care? Apparently not.

Ken Schrom is 82. He's a Korean War veteran and he's dying of cancer. Even though his days are numbered, he says he still feels obligated to respond to the dozens of solicitations that arrive every day. Every one from children's charities to Mackenzie's clients hit him up - daily - and he's been mighty generous.

SCHROM: Last year I contributed more money than I made.

Edith Nowicki is 93. She made millions in business in St. Paul and Mackenzie and his partners are among the many people who want some of it. Actually, some days it seems like they want all of it.

Not all of these solicitation letters are from Base Connect and Mackenzie clients but they hit Edith up often enough that her daughter recognizes their names.

JEANNE: Black Republican ... Freedom Defense Fund. All the friends of people, Duane Sand, Senator Bob Smith. I know them. They don't know me.
ELRICK: It sounds like they should be happy they don't know you.
JEANNE: Oh, they should be very happy they don't know me.

Edith's children say she misses meals and has become isolated because she is so intent on responding to these requests for donations.

NOWICKI: It got to the point where she and I would argue on the phone to the point where she would hang up on me or I would hang up on her. And I finally said to her one time: We will no longer talk mail. It gets in the way of the important things.

ELRICK: What do you think your mother would say if she found out that somebody who didn't run for Congress told her he was running for Congress and cashed her check?
JEANNE: I think she'd feel foolish and hurt.

After several attempts to hear what Base Connect has to say, they still refused to meet with me. Instead, they sent security.

Campaign finance experts say there's no law against raising money for people who don't end up running for office, and it's okay for fundraisers to pay themselves almost all of the funds they raise as long as they fill out the proper paperwork.

SCHROM: Well, how do you keep track of these guys when they send everything through the mail?

NOWICKI: How would you feel if this was happening to your 93-year-old mother? And God forbid it is because if you're allowing it, and you're doing it, that's even worse.

SCHROM: They're just looking to fill up their war chest. And I think that's wrong.

Raczkowski is currently running for state Senate. He says he isn't using Mackenzie or Base Connect in this campaign, and now he says he may take legal action against them.
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