Leadership PACs are a campaign-finance scandal
Rep. Duncan D. Hunter (R-Calif.) and his wife were indicted in August on suspicion of using campaign money to pay for lavish vacations, meals, alcohol, clothes and even family visits to the dentist. In all, Hunter and his wife allegedly spent more than $250,000 in campaign money on personal expenses.
There’s some irony in the charges, however. Although the behavior may strike many observers as greedy, from a legal perspective Hunter’s mistake was not that he indulged his taste for luxury using donations from the public. Rather, it was that he simply drew from the wrong pile of donated money.
Had the money for Hunter’s vacations come out of his leadership PAC rather than his personal campaign committee funds, there probably would be no scandal. Although the law prohibits members from using their campaign committee money for personal use, the Federal Election Commission does not enforce similar restrictions on leadership PACs. The result is that leadership PACs have essentially become slush funds, and almost every member of Congress has one.
Many members have spent lavishly out of their leadership PACs without paying any legal price. According to a report by Issue One and the Campaign Legal Center, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) spent $4,492 on limousine service in Rome, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) spent $15,000 on Celtics tickets in 2017, and Rep. Gregory W. Meeks (D-N.Y.) has spent more than $9,000 at a Las Vegas resort this election cycle. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) spent more than $40,000 between 2015 and 2018 on fundraising events at Disney World and Universal Orlando Resort.
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