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Leadership – In Washington It Means More than You Think

January 13, 2010

Ever heard of a Leadership PAC?  They don’t receive a lot of media attention and as far as Political Action Committees (PAC) go, they deal with relatively small amounts of money.  Nonetheless, the have great influence, not only with who each fund gives to, but with who controls the fund by those that give to it.

Each election cycle we hear the term “PAC” in news reports.  While most of us have an idea of what they are, few understand the power a PAC can hold.  Federal law limits the amount of money an individual or group gives to a candidate.  A Political Action Committee raises funds from individuals, cooperation, or other PACs.  In turn, the PAC gives to candidates and other PACs, to the limit allowed by law.

For example, Representative X is from your district and you like her work so far because she brought the widget factory there.  You can give her up to $2,400 for the primary and another $2,400 for the general election.  A local PAC is formed called “Keep Widgets Local” and they plan to support any candidate that supported the widget industry.  You can give them up to $5,000 per year.  The PAC in turn contributes up to $5,000 to your representative.  There are limits for earmarks but that is basically how they work.  The details of PACs in general are for another article.  This means you can give to a candidate and a PAC that supports that candidate too.

This is where Leadership PACs come in.  Each member of congress can have a one.  In the 2008 election cycle, members controlled 361 Leadership PACs.  Just what is a Leadership PAC?  They are PACs where the member directly controls the funds.  They can contribute to other member’s campaigns up to $5,000 per member, per year.  They contribute to each other more than voters can.  Then the member they gave to can turn around and give $5,000 back.  In effect, they can take $50,000 (or more) from their PAC; give it to ten other members’ campaign fund with each of them doing the same for the group.  The result being their fund gains the $50,000.  If businesses engage in this type of activity, we call it money laundering.  By giving to other members, they gain influence and committee appointments have instant support.

This money may be used for almost any purpose other than supporting the members own campaign, everything from fancy meals to paying a spouse for a “do-nothing” job.  In 2008, over $36,000,000 in Leadership PAC funds found their way into congressional election coffers.  Laws requiring reporting on Leadership PACs are vague and obtuse, allowing for little oversight.

In the end, Leadership PACs are dressed up slush funds at the candidate’s disposal.  The funds come from  individuals and industries the member has some sort of controlling interest in, such as being on a transportation committee and the fund supported by an airline.  What they really are is a legalized form of bribery.  In other words – Washington “leadership” at is best!

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