Leadership PACs are often overlooked. These corny names can’t be ignored

Your abs have nothing to do with this Six PAC

From Six PAC to Steer PAC to all kinds of acronyms, new lawmakers are getting in on the fundraising name game. Above, House Republicans pose for a new member photo on the steps of the Capitol on Jan. 4.  (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
From Six PAC to Steer PAC to all kinds of acronyms, new lawmakers are getting in on the fundraising name game. Above, House Republicans pose for a new member photo on the steps of the Capitol on Jan. 4. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted April 20, 2021 at 6:00am

If you won your seat in Congress by one of the narrowest margins ever — six votes — you can’t run away from it.

And Iowa GOP Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks showed she’s owning that narrow win in choosing the name for her leadership PAC, a fundraising committee that operates parallel to (and with more relaxed spending rules than) the one she will use to run for reelection.

Showing some originality in an area of campaign finance where too many lawmakers rely on gimmicks, or even names that were taken before them, Miller-Meeks not only trumpeted her close win but checked the candidate-I’d-like-to-have-a-beer-with box by choosing “Six Political Action Committee.”

That’s Six PAC if you’re filling out checks. Some of Miller-Meeks’ fellow GOP freshmen chose names that send a message about why they’re there, such as “Save America Stop Socialism” (Georgia’s Marjorie Taylor Greene), “Freedom Force,” (Florida’s Maria Elvira Salazar) and “Residents First” (Florida’s Carlos Gimenez).

Other GOP freshmen chose to use the name of their state in the PAC name, such as “Oregon Frontier” (Cliff Bentz), “Tennessee Tough” (Diana Harshbarger), and “Texas Red” (Ronny Jackson).

That’s a theme popular across Congress, as is having the PAC’s acronym spell the lawmaker’s name, a trend that continued with “Conservative American Republican Leadership” (Alabama’s Jerry Carl), “Must Act to Create Excellence” (South Carolina’s Nancy Mace) and “Patriots Always Triumph” (Texas’ Pat Fallon).

Some had fun with this, such as “Make America Republican Yesterday” (Illinois’ Mary Miller). Others had to reach a bit with “Support Taxfighters & Elect Effective Leaders” (California’s Michelle Steel).

One seems to have looked in the mirror to pick a name: Michigan’s red-haired and -bearded Peter Meijer chose “Ginger PAC.”

Originality is not required in naming leadership PACs. When former President Donald Trump declared last month there should be “no more money for RINOS,” he urged supporters to donate instead to “Save America PAC,” a leadership PAC he created as he was leaving office.

It didn’t matter that there already was a leadership PAC with that name, created in 2009 by Sen. Jim Risch. The Idaho Republican also created Save America PAC II in 2017. Risch’s funds took in less than $160,000 during the 2020 election cycle, while Trump’s took in nearly $32 million between Oct. 15 and Dec. 31. Risch didn’t respond when asked how he felt about the former president copying the name, or whether any dollars meant for Trump showed up in Boise instead.

But Trump is hardly alone in having a fund with a name similar to someone else’s. There are two GREG PACs: “Getting Republicans Elected for Generations” (Rep. Greg Steube, R-Fla.) and “Getting Results by Engaging the Grassroots” (Rep. Greg Stanton, D-Ariz.).

You also have two DAVE PACs: “Defending American Values Everywhere” (Rep. David Joyce, R-Ohio) and “Defending America’s Values Everywhere” (Rep. David Schweikert, R-Arizona).

State nicknames and university mascots are another popular theme, especially for Big Ten schools. There’s “Wolverine PAC” (Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich.), “Hawkeye PAC” (Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa), and “Badger PAC” (Rep. Ron Kind, D-Wisc.), not to mention “Buckeye PAC” (Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, R-Ohio) and “Buckeye Liberty PAC” (Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio).

Some opt for local geography, such as “Shore PAC” (Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., D-N.J.), or local agriculture, such as “Maple PAC” (Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt.). If you prefer red meat, two Wyoming Republicans were ready to accommodate with “Cowboy PAC” (Rep. Liz Cheney) and “Steer PAC” (Sen. Cynthia Lummis). If you’re wondering, the other member of the delegation, Republican Sen. John Barrasso, opted for “Common Sense PAC.” 

While that evokes a get-along attitude, some more in-your-face alternatives include “Truth to Power” (Rep. Katie Porter, D-Calif.), “America Reloaded” (Rep. Daniel Crenshaw, R-Texas) and “Come and Take It” (Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas).

Leadership PACs are an often overlooked part of the campaign finance architecture supporting the parties. Analyze where money goes from corporate PACs, and you’re more likely to see deposits to leadership PACs than the more mundanely named and easily identified (i.e., Miller-Meeks for Congress) campaign committees candidates have. 

Donors can give up to $5,000 a year to a leadership PAC, on top of the maximum for campaign committees of $2,900 per election for individuals and $5,000 per election for PACs. Leadership PACs were designed to give office holders and would-be office holders a way to raise money to fund party-building, usually by making contributions to party committees or other candidates who could return the favor at some point.

The law says candidates may spend campaign cash only on costs associated with winning or holding office, but the rules for leadership PACs are less restrictive.

Critics say some members use them as slush funds to pay for lavish meals or trips to resorts or golf outings.

“Our investigations highlighted a number of cases of leadership PACs doling out relatively small sums to like-minded candidates or political allies while continuing to churn through scads of money from one fundraising trip to another,” said Michael Beckel, research director at Issue One, a group that tracks political money and advocates for changes to the law.

Many Republicans and Democrats use them to raise the “dues” they are supposed to pay to their party committees in the House and Senate. Those dues grow more expensive if a member chairs a committee or serves as ranking member. They also increase for members of so-called A-level committees, such as Financial Services or Ways and Means, that handle issues that give members more access to wealthy corporations and their lobbyists.

Members use donations to their parties and colleagues to build clout and work their way up the ladder. No one gets thrown out of Congress for not paying their dues to the campaign committee, but when there are leadership fights or a gavel becomes available, one factor that comes into play is how much the contenders gave to support the team.

And they get to have fun with names, as Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Lloyd K. Smucker clearly did when he named his “Jam PAC.” With a name like that, you know it has to be good.