Leadership PAC-Armed Freshmen: Instant Access for Newcomers

Photograph by Scott Eells/Bloomberg

Julian Castro, mayor of San Antonio, left, waves with his brother, Representative Joaquin Castro, a Democrat from Texas, at the Democratic National Convention.

They haven’t been assigned an office, hired a staff or even received their membership pin, yet many of  those elected to the  House yesterday already have jumped into the Washington-insider fundraising game.

At least seven House freshmen-to-be have established so-called leadership PACs, organizations typically set up by veteran lawmakers to contribute to each others’ campaigns and, in the process, stockpile chits — as Bloomberg Government’s Congress Tracker reports.

It’s a sign the newly elected want to be players once they’re sworn in, said Meredith McGehee, policy director at the  Campaign Legal Center.

“It’s the accessory that every cool politician has to have,” she said. “It means you arrive in Washington ready to play the game on Day One.”

Among those elected with leadership PACs in hand are Democrats Joaquin Castro of Texas, Mark Pocan of Wisconsin, Derek Kilmer of Washington and Dan Kildee of Michigan. So too have Republicans Robert Pittenger of North Carolina, Roger Williams of Texas and Ron DeSantis of Florida.

The funds are the less well-known cousins of the traditional campaign committee. Kilmer’s is called the “Defense, Economic Renewal, Education and Knowledge PAC,” an acronym for Derek.

The money raised is subject to fewer restrictions than campaign committees, and donors are more likely to be lobbyists than lawmakers’ constituents. The term “leadership PAC” derives from the fact that they were first created by lawmakers in leadership positions, said Brendan Glavin, data manager at the Campaign Finance Institute.

“Originally, it was pretty much the higher ups,” he said, “but over time we’ve seen a democratization of it.”

Among the largest funds of this type is South Carolina Republican Jim DeMint’s “Senate Conservatives Fund,” which has raised almost $14 million during the 2012 election cycle, according to the Federal Election Committee. House  Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s “Every Republican is Crucial (ERICPAC)” collected more than $5 million while Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s “Prosperity Pac” raised $4.8 million, according to government records.

By comparison, the sums raised by the newly elected members are small. Castro, pegged by some Democrats as one of their rising stars, raised about $132,000, according to the FEC. That he and other newcomers have the secondary committees at all “reflects just the amount of money that’s sloshing through the system,” said McGehee.



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