Politics & Government

Lavish Republican fundraiser with LeAnn Rimes nets $650

Country music singer Lee Ann Rimes
Country music singer Lee Ann Rimes Mark Cornelison/Lexington Herald-Leader/MCT

WASHINGTON — A freshman California lawmaker made a big splash but barely broke even at a glitzy and controversial January GOP fundraiser featuring country singer LeAnn Rimes, new campaign filings show.

Celebrity, it seems, comes at a cost.

Rimes and her entourage made out well at the Jan. 4 fundraiser that served as Republican Rep. Jeff Denham's big political debut in Washington. Between assorted fees, flowers, catering and other costs, Denham's special fundraising committee reported spending $212,250 on the Rimes event.

The committee, meanwhile, raised only $212,900 from outside contributors.

Add it all up, and Denham's special committee spent nearly a quarter of a million dollars to net a grand total of $650 in outside contributions.

"It's an industrial-strength waste of money, and the people who gave the money are going to resent it," said Michael Fraioli, a longtime Democratic fundraising expert.

Denham didn't respond Friday to requests for comment.

For Denham, the fundraising reports for the first quarter of 2011 are a reminder that political muscle takes a while to build. For spectators, the reports reveal the strange things that can happen at the intersection of politics and entertainment.

Denham, 43, began the America's New Majority political action committee in November as a way to raise money for fellow Republicans, and thereby boost both his party and his standing within it.

"This is to help our freshman class," Denham said in an interview on the day of the fundraising event. "It's to bring us together, and it's also to raise the money to make sure we can campaign well in 2012."

Some critics at the time questioned the seemliness of such a lavish event held on the eve of a new Congress whose members were touting the need for fiscal discipline. One conservative commentator asked Denham at a news conference whether it was right for an "admitted adulteress" like Rimes to entertain at a GOP event.

Denham brushed off the criticism and specifically likened his fundraising work to that of fellow California Republican Rep. Kevin McCarthy, whose energetic labors on behalf of the party helped propel him to the position of House majority whip.

As a so-called joint fundraising committee, America's New Majority, was specifically established to aid 11 Republican freshman House members who signed on. In theory, the money raised was to be divvied up among them.

Other potential beneficiaries included Florida Reps. Steve Southerland and David Rivera, whose participation in the high-profile Jan. 4 fundraiser drew a gleeful response from the Democratic operatives.

"While Florida families struggle to make ends meet, Rivera and Southerland will be living large on the dime of special interests and lobbyists at a lavish Washington fundraiser," Florida Democratic Party spokesman Eric Jotkoff declared in a January statement.

Through March 31, reports show, America's New Majority hadn't yet distributed any money to the participating Republicans. If the $650 netted from outside contributors were to be divvied up evenly, each of the 11 GOP lawmakers would receive $59.

The myriad costs reported for the LeAnn Rimes performance itself included $75,000 for "musical entertainment fee," $25,000 for "event management" paid to Nashville-based Maximum Artist Management, and nearly $55,000 for hotel rooms and catering paid to the W Hotel, a couple of blocks from the White House.

For flowers and "event design," the committee paid $27,166.74.


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