The Committee to Elect an Effective Valley Congressman has one particular congressman in mind: Howard L. Berman, a 15-term California Democrat who is struggling to hold on to his redistricted San Fernando Valley seat. The political fundraising committee is essentially the creation of one man trying to keep a close friend and political ally in office. “Howard and I have been friends for 30 years,” said Marc Nathanson, a cable TV magnate and investor who founded the super PAC and has given it $100,000. “It’s a friendship beyond what I call political friendships — it’s a personal relationship. When it was clear he needed help, I figured out a way to do that.”
Amid the hundreds of super PACs created to help favored candidates and causes, Nathanson’s group is part of an even more specific class — highly customized, highly personalized political action committees, often created overnight when a relative or friend writes a check. The phenomenon began in the Republican presidential primary, when a handful of millionaires lined up to support their candidates through specially targeted super PACs, including one funded by Jon Huntsman Jr.’s billionaire father.
The same kinds of very personalized groups have sprouted in House and Senate races across the country, inundating voters with ads and mailings and testing the limits of federal rules forbidding coordination between fundraising committees and candidates. The trend has alarmed watchdogs who say the groups make a mockery of federal contribution limits, which are supposed to guard against corruption by capping the amount of money supporters can give to a campaign. But with a personalized super PAC, supporters can write as big a check as they wish as long as they do not technically coordinate with the campaign.