Leadership PACs often used for creature comforts, not campaign cash, study finds
Plenty of the special fundraising committees that members of Congress are supposed to use to help their congressional peers continue to be used instead as slush funds for their own fancy eats and fun in the sun, a new report concludes.
"All Expenses Still Paid" was issued Wednesday by a pair of campaign finance reform advocacy groups, Issue One and the Campaign Legal Center, that have done several previous studies of the behavior of leadership political action committees, which lawmakers establish separately from their re-election organizations with the stated aim of raising money to be donated to the House or Senate campaigns of their political allies. (The Fulcrum is being incubated by Issue One but is journalistically independent.)
But less than half of the money spent by all leadership PACs in recent years has actually gone toward contributions to other candidates and political groups, the groups found. Instead:
- Members used their leadership PACs to spend more than $87,000 in the last three months of 2018 at upscale restaurants near Capitol Hill, including 13 members who spent $16,939 at Charlie Palmer Steak.
- Four members spent a combined $113,000 through leadership PACs last fall at Sea Island, a luxury resort in Georgia, while three others spent almost $73,000 at Kiawah Golf Resort just up the coast in South Carolina.
- Among the members called out in the report were Republican Rep. George Holding of North Carolina, who directed only 18 percent of the $321,000 he spent between January 2017 and December 2018 to other candidates and political groups. Only 32 percent of the spending by the leadership committee of Democratic Rep. Gregory Meeks of New York during this same period went to candidates and political groups.
Legislation, introduced in the House in January, would extend to leadership committees the personal use ban that applies to campaign committees. No action has been taken on it.
Is local journalism a public good worth saving?
If so, public funding could go a long way in addressing a decade-long trend of declining revenue that has forced local newspapers to cut staff, reduce coverage and sometimes close their doors.
An array of ambitious recommendations on how the federal government could save local papers are out this week from the Brookings Institution, one of Washington's best-regarded think tanks, which outlines the crisis facing the industry and why it matters to the health of American democracy.
House Democrats are continuing their push for stronger voting rights protections, releasing findings Thursday from a series of 2019 field hearings across the country on impediments to voting.
The 144-page report concludes that "the fundamental right to vote is under attack" and calls for congressional action.
But the report, prepared by the Democrats on a House subcommittee with jurisdiction over elections policy, does not include any of the views of minority Republicans, who said in a separate statement that they disagree with the Democrats' conclusions.
The usual practice in Congress is to include dissenting views in all committee reports, so the breakdown of that process is further evidence of Capitol Hill's ever more harshly partisan tone in general and its recent approach to voting rights in particular.