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Bill Straub: Sen. Paul living high on donations to his leadership PAC, money meant to assist others


It’s certainly comforting to learn that our boy, Rand Paul, the Earnest T. Bass of the United States Senate, is living the high life these days.

Even better, he is, as Steve Winwood once said, able to “drink and dance with one hand free” on somebody else’s dime, further enhancing his notorious pinch-penny reputation.

The inside dope is elaborately laid out in a report issued by a pair of nonpartisan government watchdog groups, Issue One and the Campaign Legal Center, looking into the potential abuses of leadership political action committee (PAC) accounts, created with the blessing of the Federal Elections Commission in 1978.

A veritable horde of lawmakers, 92 percent, in fact, have established these accounts, purportedly to raise funds and dole the lucre out to political allies and like-minded candidates, such as vulnerable colleagues or candidates running in competitive House and Senate races.

But, like almost everything in the District of Columbia, the original intent has been lost in the muck and mire. So now, according to the report, titled, “All Expenses Paid: Another Look at Congressional Leadership PACs’ Outlandish Spending,” some of the nation’s finest representatives are using their leadership PACs as, well, what some folks would refer to as slush funds.

“…while most members of Congress primarily use their leadership PACs to make political contributions, new research from Issue One and Campaign Legal Center shows that scores of lawmakers are not, in fact, using the bulk of the money they raise in their leadership PACs to assist other candidates, their parties, or other political groups.”


The NKyTribune’s Washington columnist Bill Straub served 11 years as the Frankfort Bureau chief for The Kentucky Post. He also is the former White House/political correspondent for Scripps Howard News Service. A member of the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, he currently resides in Silver Spring, Maryland, and writes frequently about the federal government and politics. Email him at williamgstraub@gmail.com

No, they’re only assisting themselves.

And what are they doing with the dough? Well, let’s look at one enterprising lawmaker in particular, the aforementioned Sen. Rand Paul, R-Bowling Green:

“Just 12% of the roughly $990,000 Paul’s leadership PAC spent during this two-year period went toward contributions to other candidates, political parties, or political groups — the smallest percentage of any senator who did not retire in 2020. All the while, Paul’s leadership PAC spent significant sums on dining, lodging, and transportation.”

The list is quite a sight to see. RANDPAC, a cute and clever anacronym for Reinventing a New Direction PAC, spent $23,000 on airfare during the period from January 2019 through December 2020. It also expended $18,000 on Uber rides and $4,000 on Amtrak train tickets.

“Furthermore, Paul made a habit of staying at luxury hotels on his leadership PAC’s tab, spending a total of $14,000 on lodging during this two-year period,” the report found. A breakdown of the swank accommodations paid for out of the leadership kitty were:

• $1,900 at The Breakers, a five-star resort in Palm Beach, FL, which Fodor’s describes as “a legendary 140-acre self-contained jewel of a resort.”

• $1,500 at the Inn at Perry Cabin in St. Michaels, MD, which U.S. News and World Report has rated as the No. 1 resort in Maryland.

• $760 at the Salamander Resort, a luxury resort and spa in Middleburg, VA.

• $710 at Chateau Elan, which calls itself “North Georgia’s premier destination resort.”

But wait, there’s more.

Our boy Rand appears to be quite a duffer on some of the nation’s ritziest golf courses. Issue One and the Campaign Legal Center discovered that RANDPAC distributed $600 to a golf instructor, $620 for registration fees at the Kelly Plantation Golf Club in Florida, and $680 in expenditures over multiple trips to the Trump National Golf Club in Northern Virginia.

“Moreover, Paul’s leadership PAC spent roughly $13,000 on meals at locations including the Capitol Hill Club, BLT Prime, and The Monocle. It paid around $820 for baseball tickets at Nationals Park, home of the Washington Nationals MLB team. And it paid around $390 for a ‘miscellaneous’ expense at Karlštejn Castle, a Gothic fortress outside of Prague, in the Czech Republic,” the report said.

Now, in case your wondering, this is what RANDPAC, on its website, cites as its raison de etre:

“Rand PAC’s mission is to fight for the Constitution on important issues and support and elect Pro-Liberty, Pro-Constitution candidates in Kentucky and across the country.”

Now, one might reasonably question what constitutional issue the good senator was addressing while exploring the fifth most visited castle in the Czech Republic, or what high elected position the golf instructor is seeking that merits a financial boost from our liberty-loving lawmaker, or whether the sizzling T-bone served at BLT Prime is pro-Second Amendment.

This also from the RANDPAC website:

“Nearly every candidate from both parties gives lip service to spending restraint, but RANDPAC searches for candidates who will join Senator Paul’s fight to balance the Federal budget, protect the Constitution, and help end federal overreach.”

As long as you broach the subject of “lip service to spending restraint,” did the senator feel sufficiently restrained when his leadership PAC took care of his green fees that benefitted a course owned by a certain ex-president? And did the good folks at The Breakers leave a nice, little chocolate mint on his pillow when they made his bed up in the morning?

The Issue One and Campaign Legal Center study clearly establishes that Paul and others are essentially using their leadership PACs as ATMs, “using that cash to enjoy perks of lavish living that are beyond the reach of most Americans — such as meals at fancy restaurants, trips to elite resorts, rounds of golf at premier courses, and more.”

“When leadership PACs are essentially underwriting lavish lifestyles for politicians, it raises serious questions about whether leadership PAC funds are being spent in ways that amount to personal use,” the report stated.

No kidding.

Jake Cox, a Paul campaign spokesman, insisted to the business news site Business Insider via email that the purpose of RANDPAC “is to support candidates Sen. Paul likes for office and promote the issues that he cares about that make him a different kind of Republican.”

Just how a $600 golf instruction paid for by his leadership PAC tends to support candidates he likes and makes him a different kind of Republican is left unclear.

“It also brings together activists and donors from around the country who believe in his message of liberty and action for a movement to elect leaders to office. So his PAC is a little different from his peers,” Cox said.

Well, yeah, it lets him live like the Queen of Sheba without having to reach deep into his own pockets to support the lifestyle to which he has become accustomed.

Cox further told Business Insider that upcoming campaign finance reports will show Paul has contributed “nearly $200,000″ to other candidates.

Information filed with the FEC shows that RANDPAC’s total receipts for the period in question – Jan. 1, 2019 to Dec.31, 2020 – were $1,064,208.40. Dedicating about 20 percent of the cash brought in to its stated purpose, supporting like-minded candidates, with a significant portion instead going to fund a posh livelihood, doesn’t pass the smell test.

Now let’s go a step further.

The FEC report shows that the PAC’s total disbursements during the two-year period were $988,450.23. Of that total, $857,775.23 went toward unspecified “operating expenses.” Contributions to other committees, presumably those operated by like-minded pols, were $87,500.

Uh-huh.

FEC records further show 717 contributors to RANDPAC during the period in question. Among those chipping in – and a vast majority of the contributions came from outside Kentucky – were the American Optometric Association PAC, the National Beer Wholesalers Association PAC, Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings PAC, Charter Communications PAC, Comcast Corp. and NBC Universal PAC, AT&T Inc./Warnermedia LLC Federal PAC, Toyota North America Inc. PAC and Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers of America (PhARMA) Better Government Committee.

There obviously are more. So the major drug, communications and auto industry PACs cited here didn’t directly pay for the plane trips, Uber rides, stylish hotel suites, golf outings or steak dinners our boy, Sen. Rand Paul, availed himself of, but the leadership PAC they tossed cash into did.

What’s the difference?

Meanwhile, the Federal Elections Commission sits on the sidelines and does nothing, a toothless tiger caught up in political wrangling that renders it nearly impossible for the outfit to enforce its own rules, leaving politicians like Rand Paul to take advantage of the situation.
And we can count on old Rand to enthusiastically say one thing about the whole grift.

“FORE!”


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3 Comments

  1. Ruth Bamberger says:

    All the $$$$$$ floating around in political circles is destroying democracy. As POGO once said, “We have met the enemy, and it is us”. Our destruction has come from within, and the prognosis doesn’t look good for us to dig out of this decline.

  2. Marv Dunn says:

    There is simply way too much money in politics but don’t expect the FEC or Congress to put the brakes on.

  3. Steve Graves says:

    Could your Article be ANYMORE Biased? Let me guess which Political party you Endorse?

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