Congressional leadership PACs continue to subsidize lavish lifestyles

Private jets, luxury hotels, and expensive meals are par for the course as a majority of leadership PAC spending strays further from its intended purposes.

A new report today released by Issue One and Campaign Legal Center (CLC) shows that instead of doling out funds to political allies, members of Congress routinely use leadership PAC funds to pay for expensive meals, rounds of golf, and luxury hotel stays — often under the guise of fundraising. During the final three months of 2018 alone, some members of Congress used leadership PACs to pay for trips to Puerto Rico and London, dues to exclusive social clubs, tickets to the Churchill Downs racetrack (home of the Kentucky Derby), and stays at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. — all while not giving the majority of their funds away to other candidates.

This continues the trend identified by the groups’ original July 2018 report that revealed that less than 50% of overall leadership PAC spending in recent years – according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics – has actually gone toward the purposes originally approved by the Federal Election Commission (FEC) – namely, contributions to candidates and political groups.

“Leadership PACs are a decades-long ethics scandal in Congress that should outrage every American,” said Issue One Executive Director Meredith McGehee. “Members of Congress should embrace bipartisan legislation to curb the abuses of leadership PACs.”

“The FEC’s failure to address the misuse of leadership PAC funds has allowed more politicians to exploit the system,” said CLC Federal Reform Director Brendan Fischer. “We are long past due for a solution that would stop politicians from using leadership PACs as personal slush funds to pay for golf club memberships and trips to Vegas.”

Leadership PACs first came onto the scene in the late 1970s when the FEC decided to allow members of Congress to establish separate committees to raise extra money to give away to fellow politicians. Today, nearly every member of Congress in both parties operates a leadership PAC, and these lawmaker-controlled committees collectively raise tens of millions of dollars each year.

By law, officeholders cannot use official campaign funds for “personal use” — like country club dues, clothing purchases, or family vacations. They are instead dipping into their leadership PAC funds for these expenses. This pattern arose, and has worsened, because the FEC has not applied the personal use prohibition to a politician’s leadership PAC.

The new report, “All Expenses Still Paid: A Look at Leadership PACs’ Latest Outlandish Spending,” highlights a handful of expenditures from leadership PACs between October and December, including:

  • Four members of Congress paid a combined $113,263 from their leadership PACs to Sea Island in Georgia.
  • Seven members of Congress together spent $82,408 from their leadership PACs on private jets.
  • Three members of Congress paid a combined $72,561 from their leadership PACs to the Kiawah Island Golf Resort in South Carolina.
  • Four members of Congress spent a total of $22,175 from their leadership PACs at Joe’s Seafood, Prime Steak & Stone Crab, an upscale seafood restaurant and steakhouse in downtown D.C.
  • Thirteen members of Congress spent a total of $16,939 from their leadership PACs at Charlie Palmer Steak, a steakhouse located just three blocks from the Senate office buildings.
  • Two members of Congress paid a combined $3,382 from their leadership PACs for tickets to events at the Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C., where numerous professional sports games and concerts are held.

There is growing bipartisan interest in curbing the abuse of leadership PACs. Legislation was introduced earlier this year that would expressly extend the personal use ban that applies to candidates’ official campaign committees to leadership PACs as well.

Additionally, Campaign Legal Center, Issue One, and five former members of Congress filed a letter with the FEC stating that the agency has for too long delayed taking action to apply the personal use prohibition to leadership PAC funds.

Read the full report, All Expenses Still Paid: A Look at Leadership PACs’ Latest Outlandish Spending.

About Issue One

Issue One is the leading cross-partisan political reform group in Washington. We unite Republicans, Democrats, and independents in the movement to increase transparency, strengthen ethics and accountability, and reduce the influence of big money in politics. Issue One’s ReFormers Caucus of more than 200 former members of Congress, governors, and Cabinet officials is the largest bipartisan coalition of its kind ever assembled to advocate for solutions to fix our broken political system. Learn more at issueone.org.

About Campaign Legal Center

Campaign Legal Center (“CLC”) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C. Through litigation, policy analysis, and public education, CLC works to protect and strengthen the U.S. democratic process across all levels of government. CLC is adamantly nonpartisan, holding candidates and government officials accountable regardless of political affiliation. CLC was founded in 2002 and is a recipient of the prestigious MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions. Our work today is more critical than ever as we fight the current threats to our democracy in the areas of campaign finance, voting rights, redistricting, and ethics. Learn more at campaignlegal.org.