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Pelosi, Menendez Leading the PACs

Despite being slapped with a hefty fine, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (R-Calif.) has run a more efficient fundraising operation than any other Democratic or Republican leader on Capitol Hill over the past three years.

During that time, Pelosi’s PAC to the Future has contributed 50 percent of the $2.4 million it has raised to help elect Democratic candidates, according to an analysis of data on leadership political action committees compiled by the nonpartisan

Rep. Bob Menendez (N.J.), the No. 3 House Democrat, also donated just over half of the receipts from his New Millennium PAC to candidates from 2001 to 2003.

But Pelosi and Menendez were the only elected leaders on Capitol Hill to hand out more than half of the money their leadership PACs took in.

On the other end of the spectrum, the political committee run by Senate Republican Conference Chairman Rick Santorum (Pa.) ranked last among all Congressional leaders in getting money back to candidates, handing out only 10 percent of the $3.5 million in receipts taken in by America’s Foundation.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) contributed just 12 percent of the $3.5 million raised by his Volunteer PAC. His counterpart, Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), came in last among Democratic leaders, doling out just 18 percent of DASHPAC’s haul to candidates.

In general, leadership PACs run by House leaders bested those operated by Senate leaders and Democratic leadership PACs were more efficient than their GOP counterparts.

The three members of the House Democratic leadership who have leadership PACs, buoyed by Pelosi and Menendez, contributed nearly $1 to Democratic candidates for every $2 raised by the fundraising committees.

Pelosi and Menendez contributed 50 percent of their take, while Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) gave away 44 percent of the money AmeriPAC received in the form of donations.

Pelosi paid a $21,000 fine to the Federal Election Commission last year for using a second leadership PAC to funnel more than $100,000 in contributions to Democratic candidates in 2002 as she ran to replace Rep. Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.) as leader.

The House Republican leadership donated $1 of every $3 raised over the three-year period.

Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) contributed 39 percent and 33 percent, respectively, of the funds raised by their leadership PACs to GOP candidates since 2001.

On the other side of the Capitol, Senate Democratic leaders contributed about $1 of every $5 raised. Republican leaders in the Senate gave away $1 for every $6.65 raised.

Though the Republican leadership PACs have given a smaller percentage of their receipts to candidates than their Democratic counterparts, they still handed out $1.3 million more in political contributions than Democratic PACs, according to figures from the Center for Responsive Politics.

Top Republican leaders’ PACs handed out $5.2 million of the $21.8 million they raised since 2001, while Democratic leaders contributed $3.9 million of their $11.2 million take.

GOP leadership aides attribute their higher total take to the fact that the Democratic presidential primary siphoned donations that might have otherwise gone to PACs controlled by Democratic Members of Congress.

Meanwhile, Democrats say the GOP leadership PAC boom reflects nothing more than the benefits of being the majority party.

Dan Pfeiffer, deputy campaign manager for Daschle, attributed the relatively low level of money flowing to Senate Democratic leadership PACs to the fact that four of the five Senate Democrats in leadership positions are running for re-election this year, thus making fundraising for their own campaigns a priority over bolstering their PACs.

“In the years 2001-2002, [Daschle] spent a lot more time raising money for other candidates. Now he is raising money for himself,” he said.

Daschle’s PAC has been one of the least efficient. DASHPAC contributed just $690,000 — or 19 percent — of the $3.7 million raised in the past three years, according to the figures.

Unlike the Democrats, no members of the Senate GOP leadership are fighting to keep their seats this year and thus have the luxury of spending their PAC money on aiding Republican candidates facing tough elections.

For example, Frist’s Volunteer PAC, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison’s (R-Texas) KPAC and Sen. George Allen’s (R-Va.) Good Government for America PAC each gave $10,000 to Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). Murkowski’s opponent, former Alaska Gov. Tony Knowles (D), has received only $5,000 from Sen. Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) Searchlight PAC.

“If you are not in cycle you can focus more on other candidates’ fundraising and PACs than on yourself,” Dan Allen, communications director for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said.

Several of the contributions from Senate Democratic leadership PACs this election cycle went to other members of the Democratic leadership.

Daschle’s DASHPAC contributed $10,000 to Reid’s campaign, while the Nevada Democrat’s PAC gave $10,000 to Daschle’s campaign. DASHPAC also gave $10,000 to Sen. Bryon Dorgan (D-N.D.), whose Great Plains Leadership Fund has given $5,000 and $2,000 to Daschle and Reid, respectively.

In addition to contributions to political candidates, much of the money spent by the PACs paid for fundraising dinners, mailings, telemarketing and other forms of political communication and prospecting for contributions, according to FEC reports compiled by the CRP.

Ben Ginsberg, who serves as counsel to President Bush’s campaign, noted that most leadership PACs contribute to candidates by using their resources for fundraisers and letters addressed to their own supporters asking them to contribute to a certain candidate’s campaign, all of which might be more beneficial to a candidate than a simple $5,000 check.

“They’ll fly out to do fundraisers and they’ll use the [PAC] money to pay for travel and lodging,” Ginsberg said. “My guess is the giving to candidates will increase the closer we get to the election.”

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