Angle spends more than $600,000 on shady firm

The Nevada GOP Senate hopeful pays 20 percent of funds raised to controversial direct-mail outfit Base Connect

Published July 29, 2010 2:15PM (EDT)

Sharron Angle speaks to supporters after winning the Nevada Republican U.S. Senate primary election race Tuesday, June 8, 2010 in Las Vegas. Angle will face Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev. in November. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken) (AP)
Sharron Angle speaks to supporters after winning the Nevada Republican U.S. Senate primary election race Tuesday, June 8, 2010 in Las Vegas. Angle will face Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev. in November. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken) (AP)

[UPDATED]Sharron Angle, who has fallen behind Harry Reid in several recent polls and can scarcely afford to squander any resources, has sunk $637,000 into a notorious D.C. direct mail firm. A Salon review of the Nevada Republican's FEC filings found that Angle has forked over about 20 percent of all the money she's raised to Base Connect, which is known for charging its conservative clients exorbitant fees -- as high as 80% -- and was recently dropped by a sitting Republcian congressman because of its terrible reputation.

Formerly known as BMW Direct, Base Connect describes itself "a full-service creative agency for conservative candidates running at the national level." For the past several election cycles, the firm's M.O. has gone like this: find a longshot conservative candidate running against a well-established Democratic incumbent, then launch a national fundraising campaign by sending direct mail to a list of true-believing but small-time conservative donors around the country.

The catch is that as much 75 or 80 or even 95 percent of the money raised is paid back to Base Connect and its "partner" companies (which are based in the same suite in the same building just off K Street in Washington). GOP consultant Bill Pascoe dubbed this "subprime fundraising." And Erick Erickson once said that candidates who use the firm are in danger of losing RedState's endorsement, presumably because conservative donors' money is going to a fundraising agency rather than actually helping the cause. Rep. Joseph Cao (R-LA) dropped all ties with Base Connect after Talking Points Memo reported in March he was paying the firm 75 percent in fundraising fees.

Both Angle's campaign and Base Connect did not respond to requests for comment, so it's not clear how much money the firm has raised for Angle. But she is clearly one of its major clients this cycle -- featured all over Base Connect's Web site and Twitter feed. Angle has paid $637,000 to Base Connect and two "partner" companies called Century Data Mailing Service and Legacy Lists Inc, according to FEC filings. All three firms operate out of suite 410 at 1155 15th St, NW.

The $637,000 amounts to about 20% of all the money Angle has raised this cycle, and about 35% of what she's spent so far. She seems to still be using the firm, as the most recent payments came on June 30, according to second quarter FEC data.

The classic Base Connect candidates are people you've never heard of like Charles Morse, a Republican who took on Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) in 2008 but dropped out before the general election after getting just 145 votes in the GOP primary. The Boston Globe reported that his longshot campaign took in a staggering $700,000 with the help of Base Connect (then BMW Direct) -- but the firm was paid 96% of the money. Another no-name congressional candidate, a black Republican named Deborah Honeycutt in Georgia, raised gobs of money with Base Connect in 2008 -- and paid the firm gobs of money in return. She went on to lose by 38 points.

Base Connect has argued that it is giving obscure candidates a chance and that postage and printing accounts for a significant amount of the money paid to the company.

Angle may have been attracted to the firm because she herself was originally a longshot Tea Party candidate with nothing to lose. But since she emerged from the wreckage of the GOP primary as the Republican chosen to take on Harry Reid -- considered one of the most vulnerable incumbents in the nation -- Angle's campaign has been in free fall. It has struggled with revelations of Angle's far-right views, a paranoid media strategy, and failure to respond effectively to Reid's attacks. National Republicans have dispatched a veteran communications operative to help get her campaign back on track. But Angle's relationship with Base Connect will do nothing to recast her image as a mainstream figure who can run a disciplined campaign against the Majority Leader.

UPDATE: We may have just found out how Angle ended up employing Base Connect: Jordan Gehrke, who was just named Angle's communications director after a stint as her deputy campaign manager, used to work as director of business development for Base Connect when it was known as BMW Direct. It's not clear when he left the firm. But this is not the first time current or former Base Connect staffers have been involved in the campaigns that employ the firm. (h/t Jon Ralston)

By Justin Elliott

Justin Elliott is a reporter for ProPublica. You can follow him on Twitter @ElliottJustin

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