In the past five years, members of Congress have spent at least $871,000 on golf club expenses, $741,000 at the St. Regis Hotels, and $469,000 at Disney World. A South Dakota Senator spent $403,000 at West Virginia’s Greenbrier Sporting Club; an Ohio Congressman spent $64,000 on Broadway tickets in New York City.
This runaway spending was brought to light in a new report released today by Campaign Legal Center (CLC) and Issue One, "All Expenses Paid; How Leadership PACs Became Politicians' Ticket to Luxury Living," which highlights countless stories of the bipartisan abuses of a source of funds little known beyond the beltway, but widely exploited within it: so-called ‘leadership PACs.’
In 1978, the FEC allowed officeholders aspiring to leadership to set up a PAC, separate from their official campaigns, to make contributions to other candidates. Referred to as leadership PACs, the PACs were designed to help officeholders gain support in their efforts to win leadership positions. Forty years later, an overwhelming majority of representatives and senators have leadership PACs.
Yet since 2013, only a minority of all leadership PAC spending - just 45 percent - has been used for making contributions to other candidates or political committees.
Instead, politicians are using leadership PACs to fund luxury hotel stays, country club memberships, international flights, and high-end meals. The report sheds light on how leadership PAC funds were used to pay for a Texas Congressman's membership dues at a Maryland country club and a Kentucky Senator's $4,000 limousine service in Rome.
Officeholders are prohibited from using their own campaign funds for “personal use,” but the FEC has not applied this same prohibition to leadership PACs. Subsequently, for many officeholders, leadership PACs have become little more than slush funds, used to subsidize an officeholder’s luxury lifestyle.
These examples and dozens of others documented in today's report illustrate why we must demand the FEC take action. CLC and Issue One examined 200,000 records of leadership PAC expenditures from January 2013 through the first quarter of 2018 to discover these disturbing trends that cross political party and affiliation.
CLC and IO will file a petition next week asking the FEC to clarify that leadership PAC funds can’t be used for personal expenditures, which would crack down on many of the worst abuses outlined in the report. We are also working with members of Congress to push for a legislative solution that would cover all political committees.
Our democracy deserves better.