'Political Slush Funds': The Last Loophole

"I think that it's more than appropriate for Senator Chambliss to do whatever he wants with the leadership PAC money. Certainly I think golf is completely acceptable," he said. Ervin and two of his clients – defense contractors Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics -- put $30,000 into Chambliss' leadership PAC in the last election cycle.

Leadership PACs give incumbents an unfair advantage because challengers typically can't raise the maximum amount of money allowed for their campaign committees, much less for a leadership PAC, said former FEC Commissioner Brad Smith."For the most part it's really kind of an incumbent racket," he said.

The FEC disclosure forms that leadership PACs file are so cursory that lawmakers don't have to disclose who participated or contributed at a PAC fund-raiser, the day the event was held or how much money was raised.

When Chambliss' leadership PAC ran up a $50,394 bill at the Ritz-Carlton Naples on Jan. 25, 2008, the only stated purpose was, "PAC EVENT/LODGING/BANQUET/GOLF."

Chambliss' love of golf is so legendary in Washington political circles that he has been teased for letting golf interfere with his political and legislative business.

In 2003, then-President Bush told a crowd at a golf fund-raiser for Chambliss that the senator had intercepted him on his way to the dais and said, "If you keep it short, we might be able to get a round of golf in."

Chambliss also took heat for skipping a sensitive closed-door Iraq war intelligence briefing in 2005 to golf with Tiger Woods.

Lawmakers who leave Congress sometimes keep their PACs -- or they hand them down like valuable heirlooms to their successors, with the same tight circle of lobbyists and fund-raising professionals often continuing as the core of the organization.

Chambliss' Republican Majority Fund has been around for decades. Former Sen. Howard Baker of Tennessee controlled the PAC when he was the Senate Republican leader until 1985. He handed it off to then-Sen. Don Nickles of Oklahoma. When Nickles retired from the Senate in 2005, he handed it off to Chambliss.

Laura Rizzo, who ran the leadership PAC for Nickles, now runs it for Chambliss. More than one-third of the PAC's expenditures during the 2008 campaign cycle -- $237,536 – was paid to Rizzo for "PAC FUNDRAISING CONSULTING."

Nickles, whose passion for golf is as legendary as Chambliss', now has a successful lobbying practice. Nickles Group and its clients contributed $37,500 to Chambliss' Republican Majority Fund during the 2008 campaign cycle.

Neither Nickles nor Rizzo returned calls seeking comments about their long associations with the Republican Majority Fund.

In March, the FEC's six commissioners, three Democrats and three Republicans, sent Congress a list of legislative recommendations, including one to prohibit personal use of leadership PAC funds. Their letter went to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Vice President Joe Biden, in his capacity as president of the Senate. It also was sent to members of the House and Senate committees that oversee the FEC.

So far, the FEC has gotten no response. ProPublica left messages at the offices of the speaker, majority leader and chairmen of the two committees seeking comment, but got no replies.

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