The lack of meaningful controls on campaign funds presents other problems, too. Campaign committees routinely reimburse candidates and their family members thousands of dollars for expenses incurred and provide little if any documentation to show they were legitimately related to the campaign. A former aide to Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, told the FBI the congressman routinely used campaign funds for hunting trips, meals, and charter flights. Rep. Robert E. Andrews, D-N.J., is currently under an ethics investigation for spending thousands of dollars on personal expenses, including a family trip to Scotland. Other members of Congress, such as Rep. Paul Broun, R-Ga., have loaned their campaigns money and charged usurious interest rates.
There are even fewer restrictions on members’ use of leadership PAC funds. For instance, there is no ban on personal use of money in these accounts, meaning they can be treated as slush funds. Unfortunately, Congress specifically prohibited the FEC from conducting the random audits that might reveal and deter misuse of funds. Now, as long as FEC reports look good — even if they have been falsified — the FEC’s hands are tied. Further, campaign committees are virtually the only tax-exempt organizations that never need to be independently audited.
Given the lack of effective oversight and enforcement, it isn’t likely Jackson is the only member of Congress who has illegally converted his campaign funds to his personal use — he’s just one of the few who have been caught.
Melanie Sloan is executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., takes a selfie with his cut-out head during the Hoops for Youth 16th annual charity basketball game held at George Washington University's Smith Center, September 8, 2014. The members of Congress team beat the lobbyist team 46-40. Buy photo here.