Super PAC Raises Beer Money

Super Pac believes in collegial, ah, collegiate approach to negotiations.

August 7, 2012, 6:06 PM

Aug. 8, 2012 -- There is one key ingredient that has been standing between Congress and a compromise plan to balance the budget: Beer.

That, at least, is what one federally-registered Super PAC is arguing. And in order to save the country from impending financial ruin, the Slam Dunks, Fireworks and Eagles Super PAC is legally collecting unlimited, largely-unregulated beer money to bring happy hour back to Capitol Hill.

"In college we solve our differences by sitting down and having a beer," said Daniel Bassali, the co-founder of Slam Dunks, Fireworks and Eagles. "I don't think our congressmen are too proud to accept a collegiate approach to deficit reduction."

It was that collegiate approach that led Bassali to create his Super PAC in the first place. After the Federal Election Commission approved his political action committee, Bassali said he "really didn't know where to go with it."

But over cold Bud Light Bassali, who said he "leans to the right" on the political spectrum, and his roommate and Super PAC co-founder Winslow Marshall, who "leans to the left," decided the one thing they could agree on was the vital need for deficit reduction.

The catalyst to that compromise: a nice cold brewski.

"We are two guys who saw things differently, sat down and had a beer and figured out our problems," Bassali said. "We want to bring back that happy hour time, that time just to sit down and have a beer with someone person-to-person instead of politician-to-politician."

The George Washington University seniors, both of whom live in Washington, D.C., have started raising money from college students, parents and online supporters and "slowly but surely" are getting to their goal of collecting $5,000 by September, Bassali said.

When Congress returns from its August recess, Bassali said he hopes to persuade members of Congress to join him for a pint, put politics aside, and "open up a dialogue about finding a balanced budget through bipartisan means."

"I do believe beer could be the missing ingredient," Bassali said, adding that it is "almost symbolic of checking our egos at the door."

Under federal election rules, the Slam Dunks, Fireworks and Eagles Super PAC can collect as much beer money as donors are willing to donate as long as they spend it on political activities, said former FEC chairman Trevor Potter.

There are "really no FEC rules" dictating how Super PAC money has to be spent, Potter said, but in order to avoid federal taxes on their beverage bucks, the group has to show that it's using the money to help candidates win their campaigns.

Which means Bassali's Super PAC has to wage more than a lobbying campaign and be able prove that their happy hours are election-related, Potter said. They could do that by, for example, preparing to run ads supporting happy hour attendees or against congressmen who turn down the invite.

But failing to prove that their pint purchases are campaign related will not land Bassali in court, or jail or even disqualify the Super PAC.

"If you're talking about buying beer for this meeting, in a textbook worst case they would have to pay a 35 percent tax on the cost of the beer," Potter said.

But, he added, even that punishment is "pretty hypothetical" because the odds of being audited by the IRS are low, as are the odds of the Super PAC "not being able to come up with some plausible campaign purpose."

Federal regulations aside, there are a couple campaigns that could put Bassali's bipartisan beer gatherings on the rocks. Both Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney are Mormon and do not drink alcohol.

President Obama, on the other hand, seems to be more receptive to compromise-creation over a couple of cold ones.

The president chatted with prospective voters with a mug of Miller Light during his bus tour last month. He talked through racial issues plaguing his alma matter, Harvard University, in 2009 over beers on the White House lawn. And he congratulated the first living Marine to receive the Medal of Honor with a pint outside the Oval Office.

It is that kind of "casual, low stress" environment that Bassali said he hopes to create with the money he raises through his Slam Dunks, Fireworks and Eagles Super PAC.

"I know it sounds like a silly concept, I know the name is silly, I know the concept is silly, but we are still very serious about it nonetheless," Bassali said. "It's so crazy it might actually work."