Today, Campaign Legal Center (CLC), Issue One and five former lawmakers from both parties submitted comments urging the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to clarify that the ban on personal use of campaign funds should apply to leadership PACs, in order to stop politicians from using the PACs as their personal slush funds. The organizations and former lawmakers filed the rulemaking petition in July.
Leadership PACs are supposed to be used so that officeholders can support other candidates’ campaigns to gain support for leadership positions. However, in the absence of clear rules from the FEC, only a minority of leadership PAC spending has gone toward contributions to other candidates and political committees, and instead, leadership PACs are commonly used as slush funds to subsidize politicians’ lifestyles.
The FEC has the authority to issue rules cracking down on the misuse of leadership PAC funds, and the examples we’ve uncovered provide compelling arguments for it to do so. Officeholders using their leadership PAC accounts as personal slush funds gives big money even more influence over our democracy.
According to CLC’s analysis of reports filed with the FEC since the rulemaking petition was filed, between April 1 and September 30, 2018 alone, leadership PACs spent at least $124,162 at the luxury Greenbrier resort in West Virginia, $160,809 at St. Regis resorts, $53,165 at Ritz Carlton hotels, $46,121 at Charlie Palmer Steak restaurant in D.C., and $19,760 at Disney properties.
Georgia Rep. Johnny Isakson used his leadership PAC to spend $59,145 at the Bandon Dunes golf club in Bandon, Oregon. Texas Rep. Pete Sessions used leadership PAC funds to spend $36,337 at a St. Regis resort in Deer Valley, Utah, and to spend $27,000 on an event at Dallas Cowboys stadium. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul used leadership PAC funds to spend more than $4,000 on meals, transportation, and sightseeing in London. And after Rep. Joe Crowley lost his primary in June 2018, he used his leadership PAC to spend $17,768 at the New York Racing Association horse racing track.
In July, CLC and Issue One released the report, “All Expenses Paid: How Leadership PACs Became Politicians’ Ticket to Luxury Living,” highlighting countless other stories of bipartisan abuses of leadership PACs. After the release of the report, the two organizations and a bipartisan group of former lawmakers filed a petition for rulemaking with the FEC asking the agency to clarify that the prohibition on the personal use of campaign funds also applies to a politician’s leadership PAC.