November 12, 2004
College Republicans update

Another article on the College Republicans' fundraising controversy, and frankly it raises more questions than it answers. First, we see that CRNC President Eric Hoplin has decided that avoiding the press won't make them go away.

Hoplin, 26, whose job was once held by top White House strategist Karl Rove, says he is looking into whether the committee's chief consultant misled and preyed on elderly people with a barrage of letter solicitations.

"We've come to discover that there are a few donors who have been confused, a few donors who have some form of dementia, who aren't entirely sure of the amount of money that they're giving -- and how often they're giving," Hoplin said this week.

Hoplin also acknowledged one source of that confusion: The College Republicans raise funds "using a lot of project names" -- letters that in the past neglected to mention his group at all.

Hoplin said that, after becoming the committee's executive director in 2001, his "first reform" was to require that every solicitation identify the College Republicans.

He pledged in a phone interview to refund donations to any unhappy contributor and said about a half dozen have been reimbursed.

But Monda Jo Millsap, 68, of Van Buren, Ark., said she agreed, when solicited by phone and mail, to "lend" nearly $60,000 to the group, but hasn't gotten her money back.

"They were supposed to give it back, and I haven't heard nothing," she said.

Hoplin said he is looking into possible irregularities by the group's longtime consultant for direct-mail fundraising, Virginia-based Response Dynamics Inc. The firm and its subcontractors appear to have been paid at least $6 million for sending hundreds of thousands of direct mail solicitations, according to the College Republicans' disclosure reports to the Internal Revenue Service.

"If Response Dynamics is preying on old people, I'll put a stop to it," Hoplin said.

Ah, so now we have a scapegoat. That's good, because if the two principles involved start blaming each other, details are likely to start coming out more quickly.

Ron Kanfer, president of Response Dynamics, said the firm has no way of knowing the ages of the recipients of its fundraising letters. He said the problem more than likely resulted from some people appearing on dozens of purchased lists of potential donors, possibly resulting in their being bombarded with solicitations within days. Kanfer said his firm has tried to eliminate duplications.

"Why would any client want to have the same person receiving these letters?" he asked. "It's not in anybody's best interest."

I've got some experience with this sort of thing, thanks to a past-life stint with a small software company that did a lot of direct-mail marketing, and Kanfer's explanation about duplicate addresses is crap. We had pretty good software to eliminate the duplicates that arose from combining multiple lists, and this was over a decade ago. If that's what happened here, then Response Dynamics is a clown show, and the CRNC got totally ripped off.

Alison Eikele, a spokeswoman for the College Republicans, said 79 percent of the group's revenue has been eaten up by the costs of fundraising consultants. The rest went for a campus recruiting drive that more than tripled membership to 150,000, for grooming new members to be foot soldiers in the Bush-Cheney campaign's get-out-the-vote effort and for dispatching 75 paid staff members to presidential battleground states this fall, Hoplin said.

More evidence of a ripoff right there. Did no one in the CRNC stop to ask themselves if the amount they were paying their fundraising consultants was in line with what other groups like them paid? Again I ask, what's the point of fundraising if the funds you take in are just enough to cover the cost of raising them in the first place? Someone needs to take a close look at the books here, because this does not add up.

Thanks again to Mark McCaig for the tip.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on November 12, 2004 to Scandalized! | TrackBack

Kuff -- you have experience in direct mail fundraising?

If you're doing donor prospecting, you could actually lose money and it wouldn't be too unusual. Now this would probably be odd to have your entire fundraising be prospecting, but there could be reasons for it.

Perhaps your company didn't do prospecting?

Posted by: austin fsbo on November 13, 2004 5:17 PM

Prospecting or not, no credible organization spends 75% of its money on fundraising in an election year. Even an off year would be ridiculous, but not in an on year. I bet this guy got kickbacks from Response Dynamics.

Posted by: Jon on November 17, 2004 4:52 PM