'March Madness' Beltway style

Casey Prather #24 of the Florida Gators dunks the ball during practice for the second round of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at CenturyLink Center on March 15, 2012 in Omaha, Nebraska.

The NCAA men’s basketball tournament kicks off today, and there is big money at stake -- in office pools, of course, and in Washington, where the tournament is a gimmick for politicians raising campaign cash.

At some fundraisers, games will be on TV. Nevada Senator Dean Heller’s political action committee -- Heller High Water PAC -- is hosting a viewing party at The Palazzo in Las Vegas.

Others will be at the games themselves.

“The East Regionals of the NCAA's are happening in Washington, D.C., just blocks from the U.S. Capitol,” Kathy Kieley notes. She’s with the Sunlight Foundation, a nonpartisan group that pushes for government transparency.

The Sunlight Foundation is collecting invites to March Madness fundraisers. The price of admission? According to Kieley, it’s “anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000.”

Political consultant Katy Faulk, with KLF & Company, says that at tournament-themed fundraisers, donors realize they can kill two birds with one stone.

“They can pay to go to the fundraiser and they can still see the game.”

And another consultant, Elizabeth Blakemore, with Blakemore & Associates, says that’s what donors are there for: The game. And if you’re known for throwing a great March Madness fundraiser, donors will come back year after year. So, this kind of event isn’t the time or the place for politicians to speechify.

“Blessed are the brief, because they’ll be reelected,” Blakemore says. “Or they’ll raise more money.”

This is what she tells candidates: “They already support you. Don’t talk them out of it.”

About the author

David Gura is a reporter for Marketplace, based in the Washington, D.C. bureau.

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