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.

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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 PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulCongress's goal in December: Avoid shutdown and default Cotton swipes at Fauci: 'These bureaucrats think that they are the science' Paul, Cruz fire back after Fauci says criticism of him is 'dangerous' MORE’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 GillibrandKirsten GillibrandGillibrand, bipartisan lawmakers push to keep military justice overhaul in NDAA Klobuchar confident spending bill will be finished before Christmas Five ways Senate could change Biden's spending plan MORE (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 CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzSenate nearing deal on defense bill after setback Congress's goal in December: Avoid shutdown and default Overnight Defense & National Security — US, Iran return to negotiating table MORE (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.

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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 RiceKathleen Maura RiceFive takeaways: House passes Biden's sweeping benefits bill Dems brace for score on massive Biden bill Democrats bullish they'll reach finish line this week MORE (D-N.Y.), Mike GallagherMichael (Mike) John GallagherHuman rights groups sound alarm over Interpol election China denies it tested missile, says it was space vehicle Biden slips further back to failed China policies MORE (R-Wis.) and Derek KilmerDerek Christian KilmerState Democrat group teams up with federal lawmakers to elect down-ballot candidates Washington redistricting panel reaches late agreement on new lines Democrats fear Virginia is precursor to House drubbing MORE (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.