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House GOP Retirees Turned War Chests Into Slush Funds, Watchdog Alleges

Two once-powerful House Republicans drained their campaign bank accounts on creature comforts after retiring, the watchdog group Campaign Legal Center argues in a pair of complaints to the Federal Election Commission.

One complaint says that after his eighth and final term representing Jacksonville ended in 2017, senior Appropriations Committee member Ander Crenshaw took $60,000 remaining in his political war chest and created a political action committee. But instead of donating to candidates, the PAC spent virtually all the money on telephone services, expensive meals, Apple products and even a $5,000 trip to Disney World.

The other alleges similar behavior by John Linder of suburban Atlanta, who ran the House GOP campaign organization during a nine-term career that ended in 2011. He eventually converted $431,000 in unspent contributions to a PAC. The center said the committee spent lavishly on meals and entertainment and paid Linder's children $72,000 for fundraising consulting, even though it didn't raise any funds and gave very little to other candidates.

"I don't know if these former officeholders thought they could get around the personal-use ban by laundering their personal committee funds to a multicandidate committee," Brendan Fischer, the center's director of federal reform, told The Tampa Bay Times, which has reported extensively on the behavior of so-called zombie campaigns. "Their theory is flawed."

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Personal use of campaign funds is against federal law , but PACs have much more leeway – a loophole that would be closed if HR 1, the political overhaul package passed by the House last week, were to become law.

The paper's requests for comment were not returned by the former congressmen or their PAC treasurers. Crenshaw treasurer Benjamin Ottenhoff is a former chief financial officer of the Republican National Committee and a consultant for several other PACs.

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