Sen. Mike Lee may be a freshman, but he has a rare distinction in fundraising. Not only did the Utah Republican open a leadership political action committee shortly after being elected, he created two.
In mid-March Lee opened Lead Encourage Elect PAC, and late last week he opened an affiliated leadership PAC called Constitutional Conservatives Fund. The two groups have yet to disclose any donations but plan on coordinating together to stay within contribution limits.
Lee’s move — while legal — is uncommon. Only two other lawmakers have maintained two leadership PACs concurrently in recent years: Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) with Mint PAC and Senate Conservatives Fund and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) with PAC to the Future and Team Majority. Team Majority was closed in early 2004.
Lee’s staff said he opened the second PAC because the two organizations have similar beliefs but different goals.
“LEE PAC will focus on like-minded incumbents who support Sen. Lee’s views on the proper role of federal and state government,” Lee spokesman Brian Phillips said. “The Constitutional Conservatives Fund will seek to identify lesser-known candidates for Congress who share Sen. Lee’s approach to constitutionally limited powers.”
Campaign finance reform groups generally oppose leadership PACs but do not see any additional issues with lawmakers having two or more committees.
Under FEC rules, both of Lee’s PACs would have to be affiliated and collectively stay within shared campaign contribution limits. In other words, the groups can have different names, staffs, addresses and bank accounts. But together, they are only allowed to accept a total of $5,000 per calendar year from each individual, party, candidate or political action committee.
Running two PACs at the same time has proved to be a confusing situation for at least one lawmaker. Pelosi had two PACs in operation during the 2002 election cycle. In August 2003, the FEC found that treasurers for Pelosi’s leadership PACs had violated the rules when her two PACs made donations to other candidates that exceeded contribution limits.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.