Political Party Time

March Madne$$ - Lawmakers use NCAA tournament to net some cash

When the NCAA men's basketball tournament roars into DC next week, the scoring won't be done solely on the court. At least eight March Madness-themed political fundraisers, some of which cost up to $5,000 a head, have surfaced in the Party Time database. Know about more? You know what to do.

The brackets are set, and lawmakers are taking advantage of the East Regionals — featuring No. 1 seed Indiana — tipping off at the Verizon Center in nearby Chinatown. With a single seat running upwards of $1,500 (and most already sold out), politicians aren't letting such a hot ticket go to waste.

Unfortunately for Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Md., there will be no Maryland teams in the tourney for the second time in three years. But that isn't stopping him from hosting two separate parties at the Verizon Center. On March 28, Ruppersberger will be hosting a Sweet 16 Doubleheader that will run PACs $2,000 and individuals $1,000. On March 30 he'll break out his giant foam finger again to celebrate the Elite 8 Match-Up, again charging attendees $2,000/PAC and $1,000/individual.

Though his Pittsburgh Panthers made the tournament as a respectable eight seed, Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., won't get to root for his (graduate school) alma mater in person; Pitt's playing 9th-ranked Wichita State in the West Region. But he too shall fundraise anyway, sticking to the same schedule as Ruppersberger: a Sweet 16 Doubleheader followed by an Elite 8 party. The events even have the same price points: $2,000 for PACs, $1,000 for individuals.

Two other representatives also have funders planned at the Verizon Center. Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa, will be the beneficiary of a $5,000 Sweet 16 Doubleheader (hey, that's more than double the price of the others!). His 10th seeded Iowa State Cyclones are a popular pick to upset 7th seeded Notre Dame, but, like Moran, Braley won't get to see his team in DC — the Cyclones are playing out West. Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., doesn't have a dog in the fight for NCAA supremacy, but he'll be catching the second Sweet 16 match-up of March 28 at a $2,500 fundraiser nonetheless.

But the madness doesn't stop there — other lawmakers have scheduled parties outside the Verizon Center's hardwood court. Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, is hosting a March Madness Kickoff on Thursday at the townhouse of Diageo, the world's biggest booze producer — the location seems odd, as Crapo is a Mormon and recently had a small drunk driving accident. As Crapo sips on his cranberry juice, PT bets the Harvard Law School grad will be rooting for the Crimson, a 14 seed playing a tough No. 3-ranked New Mexico squad later that night. Prices to the event max out at $2,500/PAC and $1,000/individual. If you are really crazy about college basketball, Sen. Dean Heller will be hosting an entire Weekend of Basketball for his supporters at the Palazzo in Las Vegas. There, fans can pay up to $2,500 to root for the hometown UNLV Rebels (a fifth seed) alongside Heller, as they play a stalwart 12th-ranked Cal.

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., who apparently likes to jump the gun, hosted his Gear Up for March Madness Reception on March 13, almost a week before the tournament actually starts. Taking place at Google's Washington office and hosted by its own Google NetPAC, the event maxed out at $2,000 per PAC and $1,000 per individual.

And the National Republican Congressional Committee is taking a virtual approach, posting this fundraising video around a bracketology theme.

While recent studies show March Madness can lead to millions of lost dollars for businesses, PT's own investigation has shown that it can also lead to huge profits — for lawmakers, that is.

(Photo courtesy of YHoshua via Wikimedia Commons)