Two watchdog groups have released a report showing how most congressmen run leadership PACs that often serve as their “ticket to luxury living.”
Rep. Robin Kelly, D-Matteson, whose district includes Kankakee County, and Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Channahon, who represents Iroquois County, both have such political action committees.
If the PACS are a ticket to luxury, Kelly has largely declined to take part. Her PAC has raised just $12,500 this election cycle, with most of her money spent on donations to other candidates, the type of spending for which leadership PACs were originally designed.
Kinzinger has spent a little over half of his leadership PAC money on candidate donations. In this election cycle, Kinzinger’s Jet PAC has spent nearly $20,000 on resorts, high-end restaurants, bars, limos and hotels. This money has been been spent in New York, Florida, Pennsylvania, Texas and Chicago.
Kinzinger’s reports regularly include meals at upscale restaurants in Washington.
His campaign didn’t return messages for comment.
Some of the more notable expenditures in recent years:
- $1,500 at the Trump hotels in Chicago and Washington this election cycle.
- $700 paid to Sunny’s Limos in Virginia in 2017.
- $8,500 on an event at the Salamander Resort & Spa in Virginia in December 2015 and about that much in 2014.
- $1,360 on “PAC travel expenses” at Omni Hotels in Fort Worth in October 2016.
- $437 at the Ritz Carlton Amelia Island in Florida in 2016.
- $8,000 on Washington Nationals tickets in the summer of 2014, labeled as “PAC event tickets.”
- $7,000 at the Royal Palms Resort & Spa in Arizona in 2013.
Last month, the Campaign Legal Center and Issue One released a report about the leadership PACs of congressmen and senators. The expenditures, the group said, allow officeholders to “subsidize lavish lifestyles on their donors’ dimes.”
“Little-known beyond the Beltway, these often-overlooked political committees, conceived in the 1970s, are frequently described as slush funds — and nearly every member of Congress has one,” the report said.
Brendan Fischer, an investigator with the Campaign Legal Center, said Kinzinger is not one of the “worst actors.”
“In some ways, his use of his leadership PAC reflects the general misuse of these accounts as an apparent slush fund,” he said.
Leadership PACs allow politicians to raise more money. During an election cycle, a donor can give $5,400 to a candidate’s traditional campaign account and another $10,000 to the candidate’s leadership PAC.
The Federal Election Commission has yet to clarify its rules on how politicians can spend their leadership PAC money, which may be why politicians like to spend it on such things as high-end restaurants and hotels, Fischer said.
Another reason congressmen like leadership PACs is that many media and members of the public are unaware they even exist, he said.
Many officeholders, Fischer said, hold events at luxury resorts so they can pay for later fundraisers at similar high-end venues.
“It results in a pattern that has officeholders spending more time with wealthy donors than the people they represent,” he said.
Kinzinger and other congressmen rarely publicize information about their out-of-district fundraisers. Kinzinger has long declined to discuss his fundraising resorts.
Congressmen are paid $174,000 per year.