Many U.S. lawmakers are using political contributions to subsidize their lifestyles, a new “60 Minutes” report highlights.
For instance, Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) has for the past two years spent approximately $100,000 worth of political donations on golf outings. Democratic Congressman Gregory Meeks of New York has spent roughly $35,000 on professional football games.
And it’s all technically legal.
The real scandal in Washington isn’t what’s illegal, “60 Minutes” notes: It’s what’s perfectly acceptable within the confines of the law:
Most people believe political contributions cannot be used for personal expenses, CBS News’ Steve Kroft said.
And while this is mostly true, said Peter Schweizer, author and research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, there are ways for politicians to skirt the rules.
One of the ways lawmakers can get around the issue is to rely on “leadership PACs,” political action committees that don’t technically count as being attached to specific campaigns.
These PACs weren’t in existence when Congress passed rules in 1989 that made it illegal for lawmakers to use political contributions for personal use. As a result, members of Congress have gladly exploited this fact and are using these PACs to their advantage.
“It’s a political slush fund,” said former chairman of the Federal Election Commission Trevor Potter.
He said his department has consistently recommended that Congress outlaw the use of leadership PACs for personal use — a recommendation that’s gone largely unnoticed.
It “enters a black hole,” Potter said.
Keep in mind that almost every member of the House and Senate has their own leadership PAC. This isn’t something that only congressional and Senate leaders like House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid enjoy.
Some say the practice of dipping into leadership PACs funds has gotten out of hand. For example, when Rep. Paul Gillmor (R-Ohio) died of a heart attack in 2007, his staff went a little wild with his leadership PAC cash.
“What we know is that the staff went off to a number of dinners and pizza parties and other events using the leadership PAC money. What they said was, ‘Well, it’s a grieving process. And also, we need to talk to each other about getting new jobs, and this is a way to do it,’” Potter said.
“And nobody had any problems with that?” Kroft asked during the “60 Minutes” interview.
“The problem is it’s not illegal,” Potter said.
The PACs are financed largely by lobbyists and special interest groups. In fact, leadership PACs are the second-largest source of political revenue for members of Congress.
And none of it is illegal.
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