Issue One and the Campaign Legal Center today sent a letter to FEC Commissioner Sean Cooksey urging him to work with his fellow FEC commissioners to begin a rulemaking to formally clarify that leadership PAC funds cannot be used by members of Congress for their personal use.
The letter comes in the wake of Cooksey incorrectly stating that the current personal-use restriction on political funds “is limited to authorized candidate committees.”
While the FEC has not historically enforced the personal use prohibition in the context of leadership PACs, a plain text reading of the statute makes clear that this prohibition does apply to leadership PACs. It is the FEC’s own regulations that have narrowed the statute.
“The Commission not only has the statutory authority to end the personal use exemption it has applied to leadership PACs, but in fact has a mandate to do so,” states the new letter.
“The ban on the conversion of campaign funds to personal use serves important anti-corruption purposes,” the letter continues. “As former Commissioner Brad Smith observed, ‘campaign funds are different from bribes because they are spent on the advocacy of the election of the candidate and/or the promotion of the candidate’s political positions.’ However, ‘if officeholders are free to spend contributions for personal enrichment,’ then those contributions ‘begin to look more like personal gifts than an integral part of political speech, and opportunities are created for personal corruption.’ In other words, it is one thing to contribute to a candidate in order to support their run for office; it is another to finance an officeholder’s country club dues or home renovation.”
Issue One and the Campaign Legal Center have consistently drawn attention to the ways that lawmakers have used leadership PACs to fund lavish lifestyles — including payments to luxury hotels and resorts, high-end restaurants, and private jets. And this is no small issue: More than 90% of lawmakers currently have leadership PACs.
It is long past time for both the FEC and Congress to adopt commonsense policies to stop politicians from using leadership PACs as personal slush funds. As long as the FEC fails to address the misuse of leadership PAC funds, more politicians will exploit perceived loopholes in the system.