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Rules of the Game: Super PACs Multiply, Head to Hill

Some Worry Popularity Of Organizations Might Spark Soft Money Woes

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
A new super PAC is dedicated to defending Sen. Orrin Hatch.

As super PACs proliferate, the number devoted to either backing or bashing a specific Member of Congress or a small group of Members has suddenly spiked.

There's the new Congressional Leadership Fund, which will boost House GOP hopefuls. There's the new super political action committee being launched by a former aide to Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) to promote the Majority Leader's Young Guns message and movement. There's the new Strong Utah PAC to defend Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah.) There's even a new super PAC, Renew Delaware, to attack Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.).

It's easy to see where this is going. Having hit the scene last year mostly as vehicles to shadow the national political parties and the top-tier presidential candidates, super PACs are moving to Capitol Hill. It's only a matter of time before super PACs become, like the personal campaign committees known as leadership PACs, de rigueur for Members of the House and Senate.

It's also clear that Members of Congress will play a substantial role in raising money for the new super PACs, which are an outgrowth of the Supreme Court's landmark ruling last year to free up corporate and union campaign expenditures. Such PACs may collect big soft money donations that are verboten for lawmakers as long as they operate independently from candidates and parties.

Having signaled as recently as June that he was not raising money for super PACs, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) will now appear as a featured guest at a Nov. 2 Capitol Hill Club shindig to inaugurate the Congressional Leadership Fund. He'll be joined by Cantor and several other members of the House GOP leadership.

"We're pretty honored that we've got the House Republican leadership standing shoulder to shoulder and helping get this organization started by serving as special guests at our inaugural fundraiser," said Congressional Leadership Fund President Brian Walsh, who is also president of the conservative nonprofit the American Action Network.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) are already soliciting money for a couple of super PACs helping Senate and House candidates the Majority PAC and the House Majority PAC.

In response to a June advisory opinion request, the Federal Election Commission spelled out that federal officials may not raise unrestricted soft money for super PACs. But the FEC said lawmakers may ask super PAC donors for hard money contributions that is, checks that don't exceed the federal $5,000 PAC contribution limit and that don't come directly from corporations or unions. The FEC also cleared lawmakers to attend and speak at super PAC fundraisers.

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