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McCrery, Oxley, DeLay Use Contributions for Jets, Resorts, Golf
October 10, 2005

Oct. 10 (Bloomberg) -- For U.S. congressmen such as Michael Oxley, Jim McCrery and Tom DeLay, the perks of power are found in five-star hotels, corporate jets and fundraisers at golf resorts.

They are among the top 10 congressional spenders on luxury travel financed by their "leadership political action committees," Federal Election Commission data shows. Lawmakers set up such PACs to channel donations into their allies' election campaigns, helping them build loyalty and influence. They're increasingly using the PACs to throw costly fundraisers -- often elevating their lifestyles in the process.

"Members use them as slush funds," says Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, a Washington-based advocacy group that's pushing for tougher campaign-finance laws. "You just don't have to do this to raise money."

The number of leadership PACs is surging as lawmakers seek ways to overcome campaign-finance limits. And the committees are drawing closer scrutiny since DeLay, 58, a Texas Republican, was indicted last week on money-laundering charges stemming from cash transfers by an offshoot of his leadership PAC.

More than 40 percent of the members of Congress now have leadership PACs, which can take in higher donations from companies than can the campaign committees that all lawmakers set up to finance re-elections. The PACs' expenditures also aren't regulated, giving lawmakers wide latitude in spending money they get from such companies as General Electric Co. and FedEx Corp., two of the biggest donors.


Many leadership PACs spend so much putting on fundraisers that their expenses outstrip the amount of money they give to candidates or parties. Republican Oxley's PAC this year has spent $292,458 on overhead -- everything from consultants to ski-lift tickets to postage bills -- while giving $114,000 in donations.

The PAC of Senator Saxby Chambliss, a Georgia Republican, spent $168,807 on overhead, including $24,821 at the five-star Ritz Carlton Hotel in Naples, Florida. In the first eight months of the year, it gave $52,500 to candidates and party committees.

McCrery, 56, a Louisiana Republican and member of the tax- writing House Ways & Means Committee, is the top spender on luxury travel associated with fund-raisers, according to a review of FEC disclosures by Bloomberg News and PoliticalMoneyLine, a Washington- based company that tracks spending in politics.

Five Stars

The ranking is based on a tally of stays at the 31 U.S. hotels awarded five stars by the Mobil Travel Guide; reimbursements for corporate air travel; and expenses for fundraisers featuring ski and golf trips identified through a search of Federal Election Commission databases. The analysis didn't include candidates' individual campaign committees, which also sometimes pay for such travel. It only looked at expenses that have been reported so far this year, so some PACS with late annual events aren't included.

The records show McCrery paid at least $98,237 from his PAC in the first eight months of the year for such luxuries. Next on the list is Oxley, 61, whose name has been synonymous with good corporate governance since his sponsorship of the 2002 Sarbanes- Oxley law, which cracked down on fraudulent accounting by companies.

The Ohio Republican spent at least $93,876 on luxuries, including more than $40,000 at a Vail ski resort in January. In the first eight months of the year, Oxley took at least 14 trips on corporate aircraft, including those of Houston-based Stanford Financial Group Co., which has a fleet of Gulfstream luxury jets. On the ski trip to Vail, he charged his PAC for ski wear, lodging and lift tickets, and hosted at least three golf fundraisers. While he was in New York for a May fundraiser, his PAC paid for a stay at the Peninsula Hotel on 5th Avenue, where standard rooms start at $625 a night.

A Democrat

Missouri Representative Roy Blunt, 55, who last month replaced DeLay as House majority leader, was next, spending at least $84,842. DeLay ranked sixth, spending at least $46,298 from his leadership PAC on luxuries. One Democrat, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, 66, made the top-10 list, spending $41,393.

Some lawmakers say the need to hold costly golf and ski events has increased since unregulated "soft-money" contributions were banned by Congress in 2002, making it harder to raise funds.

"When we take trips to raise money, folks want to go to nice places," says Chambliss, 61, who is seventh on the list. While his supporters "do have the opportunity to enjoy themselves," the point is to raise money, he said. "That's the purpose of a leadership PAC."

`Try to Be Unique'

Says Pamela Sederholm, treasurer for Oxley's PAC: "Others may find that they're attractive events that people want to participate in." Locations sometimes require the use of jets, she says. Sean Spicer, a spokesman for Ohio Republican Deborah Pryce, who ranked ninth on the list, says Pryce seeks to hold events that people enjoy. "You try to be unique," Spicer says.

Aides to McCrery, DeLay and Blunt didn't respond to e-mail and telephone requests for comment. Hoyer's spokeswoman, Stacey Bernards, declined to comment.

The fundraising success of Senator Richard Shelby, 71, an Alabama Republican, suggests extravagance isn't the only, or even the most efficient, route to collecting money.

Shelby, chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, oversees the same industry as Oxley, chairman of the House Financial Services Committee. Unlike Oxley, Shelby hasn't reported taking any corporate jets this year, has hosted no golf tournaments, hasn't stayed at a five-star hotel and hasn't used his PAC money to buy lift tickets. Yet his PAC took in $718,469 in the first eight months, 40 percent more than Oxley's "Leadership PAC 2006," and has more cash on hand than any other committee, according to PoliticalMoneyLine.

`Not Casting Judgment'

Senator Charles Schumer, 54, a New York Democrat whose leadership PAC has taken in $51,000 this year, has also spent nothing on corporate jets, five-star hotels, golf tournaments or skiing, according to his campaign accounts. "I'm not casting judgment on anyone else," Schumer said in an interview. "I just don't do it."

Leadership PACs are attractive to lawmakers in part because federal law allows donors to give six times as much to them as they can to campaign committees. Top corporate donors so far this year include Fairfield, Connecticut-based GE, whose political action committee has given at least $187,500; Memphis-based FedEx, which has donated $180,000; and San Antonio-based SBC Communications Inc., which has given $178,449, according to PoliticalMoneyLine. Spokesmen for GE and FedEx didn't return phone calls seeking comment. SBC spokesman Mike Balmoris declined to comment.

Even Freshmen

Traditionally the province of senior lawmakers, leadership PACs are even being set up by freshmen such as Illinois Democratic Senator Barack Obama, 44, who says they are "an important tool to help other people get elected." In 1992, 63 members of Congress had such committees. By last year, the number had climbed to 231, 43 percent of all federal lawmakers, according to figures provided by Dwight L. Morris & Associates, a Bristow, Virginia-based company that tracks money in politics.

In the two-year run-up to the 2004 election, leadership PACs raised at least $127 million, up from $96 million in the 2000 election. For 2006, the committees are on pace to match or exceed that record, raising at least $43 million through August, according to PoliticalMoneyLine.

DeLay's Americans for a Republican Majority PAC, or Armpac, is one of the biggest around: It gave more money to candidates for the 2004 elections than any other leadership PAC, with $1.2 million in donations, according to PoliticalMoneyLine.


DeLay was indicted by Texas grand juries on Sept. 28 and Oct. 3 on charges that he and two associates took corporate donations through an offshoot of Armpac, then funneled the money through the Republican National Committee and back into Texas races, in violation of state law. DeLay denies any wrongdoing.

Trevor Potter, a former FEC commissioner, says leadership PACs weren't covered by federal restrictions imposed 16 years ago on the use of campaign funds to pay for personal expenses because few people had heard of them then.

"They were not a glimmer in anyone's eye," says Potter, 49, now a partner at Caplin & Drysdale, a Washington law firm. "Congress's goal was to cut off slush funds, and I'm confident they would have included leadership PACs had they existed back in 1989."

The following table lists the biggest spenders on luxury items from their leadership PACs for the first eight months of 2005. The amounts are the sum of spending on golf and ski trip fund-raisers, reimbursements for corporate air travel, and stays at five-star hotels as ranked by the Mobil Travel Guide.

Lawmaker Party Amount
Representative Jim McCrery Republican $98,237
Representative Michael Oxley Republican $93,876
Representative Roy Blunt Republican $84,842
Representative Eric Cantor Republican $60,144
Senator Thad Cochran* Republican $54,568
Representative Tom DeLay Republican $46,298
Senator Saxby Chambliss Republican $44,984
Representative Steny Hoyer Democratic $41,393
Representative Deborah Pryce Republican $38,447
Senator Judd Gregg* Republican $37,014
*Cochran and Gregg's amount is through first six months of the year

To contact the reporters on this story:
Michael Forsythe in Washington  at mforysthe@bloomberg.net;
Kristin Jensen in Washington  at kjensen@bloomberg.net

Last Updated: October 10, 2005 00:01 EDT

Sounds like a slush fund to me or what we used to call bribery. Too bad we don't have a Justice Department watching these creeps.