A recently-released report shows that some Kentucky elected officials are using their “leadership PACS” to fund an expanded lifestyle at the expense of their donors, instead of using the monies for campaigns and candidates, as originally intended.

Specifically, the report from the Campaign Legal Center analyzes over five years of financial statements and reports from leadership PACs across the political spectrum, and found that elected officials have used their leadership PACs for expenses that would have been illegal if paid for with campaign funds. But, since the same expenditure rules don’t apply to leadership PACs, in many cases these PACs have turned into “slush funds” for the elected official to use as he or she sees fit.

And “sees fit” often includes spending very little on the original purpose of the PACs – helping candidates get elected. In addition to examining what the PACs spend money on, the report also looked at how much money was actually spent on candidates and campaigns. While no PAC is going to hit 100% in this category, due to administrative and fund-raising costs, one would expect that, like any well-run non-profit, the bulk of the spending would be toward the core purpose. As you can see from the tables below and from the report, that is often not the case: the average percentage spent on candidates and campaigns across all the PACs examined was 45% of their overall spending, which would get any other type of donor-driven enterprise in real trouble with their donors. Interestingly, some Kentucky lawmakers have some of the worst records when it comes to spending their donors’ money on getting people elected.

Our Kentucky electeds and their leadership PACs

The entire report is available online, and is an excellent read, including both the explanation of these PACs and the details of the spending they’ve documented. But, our interest was specifically on our Kentucky electeds. We used old-fashioned “find” to locate each mention of a Kentucky representative, and then collated the information into the tables below.

You will note that there are no entries for Senator McConnell, or for Representatives Comer, Guthrie, Yarmuth, or Massie. As the report states, “The report reflects notable expenditures in various categories, but it is by no means a comprehensive assessment of all leadership PAC expenditures during this time period.” It is possible that these four electeds use other forms of PACs and funding mechanisms, and therefore do not need a leadership PAC. (It is well known that Senator McConnell has his own PAC, but it is not specifically a “leadership PAC.”)

Still, there are entries for the rest of our D.C. electeds. Here’s the compiled data from the report.

Notable Expenditures from Leadership PACs
LegislatorExpense ToForPeriodAmount
RogersPebble Beach golfGolf outings2013-2018

$70,317

RogersCynthia RogersPAC event planning2016

22,000

RogersChurchill DownsTickets2013-2016

86,616

BarrBreeders’ Cup
Churchill Down
Tickets2015-2016

32,000

PaulRestaurants in Italy and MaltaDining2018

11,043

PaulLimousine serviceTransportation2018

4,492

PaulSt. George Lycabettus Hotel (Athens)Lodging2018

1,904

PaulAlrov Mamilla Hotel (Jerusalem)Lodging2013

1,597

 

And, here are the percentages of spending devoted to candidates and campaigns, by legislator and campaign season. Note Senator Paul’s numbers – he got special mention by name in the report.

Percentage Spent on Candidate/Campaign Expenses
Legislator2013-20142015-20162017-2018
Rogers

46.0%

38.1%29.0%
Barr

*

56.4%

64.6%

Paul

6.6%5.6%

15.6%

* Barr PAC didn’t form until 2015.

Recommendations from the Report

The following is taken directly from the “Solutions” section of the report. We encourage you to read the entire report, then contact your elected official to encourage them to adopt these changes.

Campaign contributions are accepted as a necessary element of our current privately funded system of elections; candidates need to raise money to reach voters, spread their message, and run for office. Officeholders and candidates are allowed to accept checks from donors in order to fund their campaigns, but are barred from converting those campaign funds to “personal use,” like paying country club fees or family trips to Disney World. If a candidate or officeholder can use donor dollars to subsidize their lifestyle or fund personal expenses, then campaign contributions pose a much greater risk of corruption.

For years, leadership PACs have existed in a legal gray area. … As a result, the FEC has provided little clarity about whether it believes the personal use prohibition applies to leadership PACs. But a plain-language reading of the law suggests that it does.
And because this plain reading makes clear the FEC has the necessary statutory authority, the agency should adopt new rules clarifying that the personal use prohibition applies to leadership PACs. Such rules would deter many abuses of leadership PAC funds and equip the agency to enforce the law against the worst offenders.

In addition, Congress could take action to deal with these problems — from banning leadership PACs altogether to counting contributions to the PACs against aggregate contribution limits, to extending the prohibitions on personal use to all political committees.

Additionally, the House and Senate ethics committees could begin cracking down on the misuse of leadership PAC funds, many examples of which have been detailed in this report.

As the examples in this report show, this problem is not unique to one party or the other: Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle have raised and spent millions from their leadership PACs. In doing so, they blur the lines between official and personal activity while schmoozing at venues far beyond the eyes, as well as the pocketbooks, of most of their constituents. It is long past time for the FEC or Congress to stop these abuses.

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Bruce Maples
Bruce Maples has been involved in politics and activism since 2004, when he became active in the Kerry Kentucky movement. He has been President, Vice-President, and Treasurer of the Metro Democratic Club, and has served on the Democratic Party Executive Committee in Louisville. He began blogging in 2004, and currently operates two personal blogs (BruceMaples.com and brucewriter.com). He founded Forward Kentucky in the wake of the state elections in 2015, and expanded it in the summer of 2016. He has lived in Louisville since 1992 with his wife and two sons.

2 COMMENTS

  1. I am so completely disappointed in those we elected to represent us on both a state and local level. What motivation does Congress have for voting to end this embarrassment of riches? Those who fund these PACS don’t seem to care as long as the recipients vote as they’re expected to. Politics used to be about love of country, but it’s become about power and greed. It’s depressing!

    • Yes, the Citizens United decision made a bad situation worse. Companies and people with money “invest” in certain politicians, and expect a return on their investment. Getting to play golf at Pebble Beach is one form of return.

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