More than 25 percent of House Members serving their first full term in Congress have already set up their own political action committees, making the term "leadership PAC" a bit of a misnomer.
New Senators are also jumping into the fray. For instance, freshman Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) opened Lead Encourage Elect PAC in mid-March and then opened another leadership PAC, the Constitutional Conservatives Fund, in early June.
Lee is one of 70 Members in both chambers who are seeking to reap the rewards of these auxiliary fundraising vehicles during their first full term.
Overall, 373 Members of Congress have filed paperwork for leadership PACs, which is almost 70 percent of all federal lawmakers. Since 2000, the number of leadership PACs — including those connected to candidates and former lawmakers — has more than doubled, according to a CQ MoneyLine study.
"If the conventional wisdom is that every Member of Congress has a leadership PAC, that's obviously not true," said Caleb Burns, a partner at Wiley Rein in the firm's election law and government ethics section. "But it sounds like the vast majority of them do."
The financial advantages of having a leadership PAC are quite clear. During the 2010 election cycle, the average leadership PAC brought in $285,000.
Republicans making the most of these groups this year include Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), who has taken in more than
$2.5 million with his Senate Conservatives Fund, and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), who raised more than $1.5 million through his Every Republican Is Crucial (ERIC) PAC.
Democrats with large leadership PAC receipts in 2011 include Sen. Harry Reid (Nev.) raising $608,000 through his Searchlight Leadership Fund, Rep. James Clyburn (S.C.) raising $569,000 with Bridge PAC, and Sen. Barbara Boxer (Calif.) taking in $538,000 with her group, PAC for a Change.
While Members cannot use this money for their own races, they often dole out these funds to other federal candidates, as well as to Democratic and Republican party committees in an effort to increase party building. The PACs also allow Members to funnel money to state and local candidates, boosting their own support and increasing turnout for their elections.
Campaign finance reform advocates have long criticized leadership PACs as being "slush funds" for lawmakers. They argue that large donors use leadership PACs to gain more influence and give more money to Members of Congress than they can give to their campaigns.
Politically, more than 71 percent of Democratic lawmakers have leadership PACs, which narrowly edges out the 67 percent controlled by Republican Members. Most of the lawmakers without leadership PACs serve in the House.