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DeLay: Don’t Change Leadership PAC Rules

Arguing that the new campaign finance law has already created a “legal minefield for the unwary,” House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (Texas) and more than a dozen other GOP lawmakers wrote to the Federal Election Commission last week imploring the watchdog agency not to abolish leadership PACs.

“There is no evidence of any Congressional intent to abolish so-called hard dollar ‘Leadership PACs,’” National Republican Congressional Committee General Counsel Donald McGahn wrote on behalf of the lawmakers in the eight-page letter.

“Nothing in current law mandates a change — in fact the Commission’s current position is clearly consistent with what Congress has actually passed with respect to what constitutes an authorized committee,” the letter stated.

FEC Commissioners Bradley Smith and Michael Toner, both Republican appointees, have proposed changing the FEC’s rules regarding the relationship between leadership political action committees and authorized committees of federal candidates. Rules under consideration would change the factors by which such committees are considered “affiliated” and therefore subject to one contribution limit.

Several groups and individuals submitting comments to the FEC last week welcomed the commission’s examination of the issue.

“We believe this effort is long overdue, since the Commission’s past policy of treating the leadership PACs of federal candidates as separate from and unrelated to the candidates’ unauthorized committees has ignored reality,” wrote Larry Noble, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, and Paul Sanford, director of CRP’s FEC Watch.

Noble and Sanford noted that “many leadership PACs are controlled in whole or in part by the candidate or officeholder and operate almost exclusively to further” their interests.

Moreover, Noble and Sanford contend that some leadership PACs are “in effect stealth campaign committees serving as additional mechanisms for promoting the candidate’s election, or for laying the groundwork for a future campaign for higher office.”

The FEC may hold hearings on the hotly contested issue later this month.

McGahn argues on behalf of his clients that leadership PACs associated with House Members do not create the appearance of corruption because contributions are limited and in fact “not all leadership PACS are directly controlled” by lawmakers themselves.

Moreover, the letter argues, because leadership PACs often use their funds to support House challengers and others running for open seats, the abolition of such PACs would in effect “put the [FEC] squarely on the side of incumbent protection.”

According to McGahn, nearly half of the funds raised by the two largest House Republican leadership PACs, the Keep Our Majority PAC and Americans for a Republican Majority, the respective PACs of Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and DeLay, went to open-seat and challenger candidates.

The letter was submitted by 14 House Republicans, including DeLay, House Majority Whip Roy Blunt (Mo.), Conference Chairwoman Deborah Pryce (Ohio), NRCC Chairman Tom Reynolds (N.Y.), Vice Chairman Jack Kingston (Ga.), Secretary John Doolittle (Calif.), Rules Chairman David Dreier (Calif.), House Administration Chairman Bob Ney (Ohio), Government Reform Chairman Tom Davis (Va.), as well as Reps. Phil English (Pa.), Greg Walden (Ore.), Buck McKeon (Calif.), Hal Rogers (Ky.) and Pete Sessions (Texas).

In a separate letter, Blunt honorary chairman of the Rely On Your Beliefs Fund, made a similar argument.

“Leadership PACs give these candidates the momentum they need to throw their hat into the ring, to meet other Members of Congress and to have Members come to their districts and give their campaigns the fundraising boost they sometimes lack,” Blunt wrote.

Jim Ellis, the executive director of DeLay’s leadership PAC, said top House Republicans wrote the letter because they believed it is important to show the positive contribution these PACs make to the political process.

“The leadership PACs help other people get elected to the House,” Ellis argued. “We should have more of these PACs, not less.”

Ellis insisted that because leadership PACs rely on hard-dollar contributions from individuals, if they are eliminated, special interests will play a bigger role in politics as a result — the opposite effect than the new campaign finance law intended.

“Once again less people will be involved in the process,” he said.

An analysis of FEC records shows that ARMPAC gave more than $1 million to 137 candidates, 71 of whom were incumbents, and $30,000 to the NRCC. ARMPAC also gave $17,000 to the private PACs of Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., oil and gas producer Koch Industries Inc., the Trucking Association of America, United Parcel Service and the law and lobbying firm of Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer and Feld. The $1 million total also included $23,000 to four leadership PACs of DeLay’s House GOP colleagues.

Before the new law, Ellis had managed all of DeLay’s various fundraising vehicles, including the nonfederal arm of Americans for a Republican Majority, once known as a “stealth 527 PAC,” which collected millions in soft money during the past two election cycles.

Since Nov. 5, a day before the new law went into effect, Ellis has relieved himself of those duties. But DeLay did not shut down that operation, even though most federal lawmakers decided to end the soft-money side of their operations when the new law hit the books.

Instead, the Texan said he divested himself of the group by handing it over to another former top aide, Tony Rudy, a lobbyist for the Alexander Strategy Group. When Rudy took control, he said he planned to keep the ARMPAC name, which has been synonymous with DeLay’s money operation for years.

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