Groups Call for Fed Crackdown on Lawmaker Slush Funds

Petition to FEC asks for clarification that steak dinners, golf outings are personal expenses

Members of Congress cast shadows on the first tee for a rules briefing for the First Tee Congressional Challenge golf tournament at the Columbia Country Club in Chevy Chase, Md.. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Watchdog groups asked federal officials Tuesday to crack down on lawmakers who use certain fundraising accounts to finance their golf outings and steak lunches.

Leadership political action committees are meant to help Congress members raise money for their colleagues — thus helping them climb leadership ranks. Because those accounts aren’t subject to the same spending restrictions as the ones candidates use for their own campaigns, they are prone to eyebrow-raising spending activity, or “used as slush funds to subsidize officeholders’ lifestyles,” the Campaign Legal Center and Issue One wrote in a petition to the FEC.

Some of the most egregious spending could be curbed if the FEC would clarify that the prohibition on the use of campaign donations for personal expenses also applies to Leadership PACs, the groups said in a letter to the FEC. 

The letter was signed by a bipartisan group of retired House members, Rod Chandler, R-Wash., Larry LaRocco, D-Idaho, Peter Smith, R-Vt., Claudine Schneider, R-R.I., and John Tanner, D-Tenn. 

“There is broad, bipartisan support for campaign finance reform, and it seems that cracking down on leadership PAC spending on country club fees, clothing purchases, and trips to Disneyworld would be pretty low hanging fruit,” Schneider said.

“The inaction by the FEC has sent a message across Capitol Hill that members can use these political committees as slush funds,” LaRocco said. said. “The FEC must recognize the current reality of leadership PACs and ensure that it does not continue. Our democracy deserves better.”

The request comes after the groups analyzed more than 200,000 Federal Election Commission records to determine how Congress Members and candidates use money raised through the committees. 

The report found lawmakers from both parties had spent millions of dollars since 2013 from leadership PACs that may have been unlawful if it came from their own campaign accounts. That spending included millions of dollars that went to resorts, golf courses, and high-end steakhouses. Only 45 percent of the money collected went to candidates or political committees, it found. 

Lawmakers and congressional campaign aides defended their choices to the Washington Post and McClatchy news last week, saying such spending is expected and necessary in the cutthroat world of Washington politics. 

The FEC could change its rules regarding leadership PACs after a public comment period.

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