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The Secret World of a Well-Paid ‘Donor Adviser’ in Politics

“Donor advisers” like Mary Pat Bonner have immense power in the world of super PACS, and their commissions are provoking complaints from big-money contributors.

A constellation of left-leaning nonprofits and “super PACs” are raising tens of millions of dollars to pave the way for Hillary Rodham Clinton’s presidential campaign — and nearly all of them have paid Mary Pat Bonner a cut.

Hillary Rodham Clinton speaking in New York in December. Nonprofits and "super PACs" are raising tens of millions of dollars for her presidential campaign. (Julie Glassberg for The New York Times)

Over the past several years, the groups, which include American Bridge 21st Century, Media Matters, and the super PAC Ready for Hillary, have paid Ms. Bonner’s consulting firm in excess of $6 million to help them cultivate wealthy donors and raise money, according to tax filings and campaign disclosures.

Ms. Bonner’s contracts give her firm a commission, typically 12.5 percent, on any money she brings in from her network of rich Democrats and liberals.

Her tenacity, ties to wealthy givers, and mastery of donor-stroking have made Ms. Bonner, 48, among the most successful practitioners of a trade that is virtually invisible to voters but has taken on immense power and influence in the post-Citizens United world.

Almost every candidate for high office must now court ultrarich donors to finance their super PACs. And with each party more reliant than ever on networks of outside groups to supplement its advertising, opposition research, and data technology, professional fund-raisers and “donor advisers” like Ms. Bonner hold the keys to the big-money kingdom.

“The Bonner Group gets us the best fund-raising product for the lowest cost,” said David Brock, the founder of Media Matters for America and American Bridge, which not only employ Ms. Bonner’s firm but also share office space with it in Washington. “In my experience the commission incentivizes the fund-raiser to meet the ambitious goals we set.”

To avoid double-dipping, Alliance officials asked that contributions earmarked by Alliance donors be exempt from Ms. Bonner’s commission. Eventually, the Alliance ended her consulting arrangement. But an Alliance official said that there was no formal policy in place and that its staff had no way of tracking or monitoring which donations Ms. Bonner’s firm earned commissions on.

Ms. Bonner said in an email that she abided by the agreement. While the Alliance’s private donor conferences are technically a solicitation-free zone, Ms. Bonner continues to attend them in a different capacity — as an unpaid adviser to Marcy Carsey, a prominent Hollywood producer and donor. Current and former executives at liberal nonprofits have complained about a perception that hiring Ms. Bonner would improve their chances of being included in the Alliance’s investment portfolio.

All told, Alliance-funded groups or their affiliates have reported paying fund-raising fees totaling at least $4.5 million to the Bonner Group in recent years.

One Alliance donor, the billionaire Boston investor Vin Ryan, said that he had not been informed of Ms. Bonner’s commission before donating to Media Matters and later demanded a written guarantee from the group that his contributions would be exempt.

“I don’t know what her role in the D.A. is at this point, nor do I know who she actually is a donor adviser to, nor do I know what organizations she represents within the group of organizations who we are supporting,” Mr. Ryan said. “I think it’s outrageous.”

Source: The New York Times (1551 Articles)
Written by Nicholas Confessore