Lawmakers using leadership PACs as ‘slush funds’ to live lavish lifestyles: report
Members of Congress are using their leadership PACs as slush funds to live lavish lifestyles bankrolled by corporate PACs and business executives, according to a new report from Issue One and the Campaign Legal Center.
Ninety-two percent of lawmakers have leadership PACs, which are separate from their campaign accounts and aren’t subject to the same restrictions on how donors’ money can be spent.
The report found that in the 116th Congress, 120 leadership PACs spent less than 50 percent of their money on politics, with the rest going to things like meals at upscale restaurants and stays at elite resorts. Those PACs together spent more than $2 million at hotels and resorts, $220,000 at sporting events and concerts, $190,000 at ski resorts and $150,000 at steakhouses.
The figures suggest that a large number of lawmakers are not using leadership PACs for their stated purpose — to raise money for their party and their fellow lawmakers seeking reelection — and instead are using them to live large on their donors’ dime.
“Leadership PACs represent the worst of pay-to-play political giving,” Issue One CEO Nick Penniman said in a statement. “People of conscience in Congress and at the Federal Election Commission must rein in the abuse of leadership PACs and prohibit leadership PACs from being slush funds for politicians to pursue lavish lifestyles.”
Sen. Rand Paul’s (R-Ky.) leadership PAC spent 12 percent of its $1 million haul on politics, the smallest percentage among senators, shelling out $1,900 at a five-star resort in Palm Beach, Fla., and $1,500 at Maryland’s top-rated resort, according to the report.
Two leadership PACs controlled by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) spent a combined $1.9 million, but just one-quarter went to political activities, according to the report. The PAC spent $7,800 at a five-star New York City hotel and $2,100 at the five-star Viceroy L’Ermitage Beverly Hills, which calls itself “the epitome of Hollywood glamour.”
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) spent 18 percent of his PAC’s $2.2 million on political activities, spending $12,000 on Houston Astros games and $5,000 at the Cloister at Sea Island, Georgia’s top-rated luxury hotel, the report found.
The Hill has reached out to those lawmakers for comment.
A Cruz spokesperson said that the senator’s leadership PAC is raising significant money to make contributions to candidates and invest heavily in “advertisements and messaging that empower and help give voice to the conservative movement.”
A large chunk of leadership PACs’ fundraising comes from corporate PACs, which are controlled by company lobbyists seeking to influence lawmakers. In many cases, those donations directly fund politicians’ lavish lifestyles.
Politicians have defended their leadership PAC spending, stating that their stays at pricey hotels and resorts are used to facilitate fundraisers with big-dollar campaign donors who expect a luxurious venue.
Lawmakers are prohibited by law from using campaign funds to enrich themselves or bankroll their personal vacations. However, the Federal Election Commission has not said that the “personal use” rule applies to leadership PACs.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers led by Reps. Kathleen Rice (D-N.Y.), Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) and Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.) proposed legislation to clarify that leadership PACs cannot be used for personal use, a measure that didn’t gain momentum last Congress.
–Updated at 8:55 p.m.
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