Primary Winners Form Leadership PACs Before Coming to Congress

  • Candidates are mostly Republicans running for safe seats
  • Practice is much more common among sitting members

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Two Republican nominees for safe, open House seats recently became the latest candidates to establish “leadership” political action committees before arriving to Congress.

Randy Feenstra, a state senator who defeated Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) in a June primary, and Kat Cammack, a former top aide to retiring Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.) who won the GOP primary last month to replace him, joined in the past week more than a half-dozen Republican candidates who formed leadership PACs long before arriving in Washington.

The PACs, which are standard for incumbents and first surfaced more than four decades ago, provide an avenue for the candidates to contribute to their future colleagues’ campaigns and can help jump-start their Capitol Hill careers before their likely general election victories in November. The practice among not-yet-elected candidates dates back to at least 2008, when former Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.) formed one.

Candidates can go back to contributors who gave the maximum of $2,800 per election to their campaign committees and ask for more money “while they’re still hot,” said election lawyer Brett Kappel of the firm Harmon Curran. PACs are allowed to collect up to $5,000 annually from each contributor.

Photo by Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg
Candidates are forming leadership PACs before arriving on Capitol Hill.

Early Leadership

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have used leadership PACs for years to contribute to party committees and fellow members’ re-election campaigns to advance their own careers in Congress. In the 1970s, former Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) received a Federal Election Commission advisory opinion allowing him to set up a leadership PAC. He used it to give campaign money to colleagues and win a subcommittee chairmanship.

Since then, leadership PACs have become common not only among congressional leaders but almost all lawmakers.

Read More: Incoming Freshmen Seek Leg Up With Leadership PACs

Most of the candidates with leadership PACs prevailed in GOP primaries to represent heavily Republican districts. That includes Marjorie Taylor Greene, a controversial backer of the QAnon conspiracy theory, who’s expected to prevail in the general election for a House seat from Georgia. Greene’s Save America Stop Socialism PAC registered on Aug. 17.

Some others, including Texan Tony Gonzalez (R), are less certain to win in November. Gonzalez faces Gina Ortiz Jones (D) for a House seat being vacated by retiring Rep. Will Hurd (R) that’s currently rated Lean Democratic by the Cook Political Report. That didn’t stop him from registering Honor Courage Commitment PAC on Aug. 17.

Democrats mostly have held off from establishing leadership PACs until they’re elected, according to FEC filings. Democratic House freshmen registering leadership PACs this year included Reps. Katie Porter of California, who registered Truth to Power PAC in June, and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, who registered Rooted in Community Leadership PAC in March.

To contact the reporter on this story: Kenneth P. Doyle in Washington at kdoyle@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Kyle Trygstad at ktrygstad@bgov.com; Heather Rothman at hrothman@bgov.com

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