PAC Funding Aimed At Congressional Leadership

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WASHINGTON – As campaign season heats up and important legislation is pending before Congress, such as the bank reform bill, credit unions and other interest groups are targeting more of their campaign contributions toward congressional leaders.

CUNA, for example, has been raising its contributions in recent months to leadership PACs, political action committees for key congressional leaders such as House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer or Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Last month CUNA made a total of $21,000 in contributions to six different leadership PACs, including $5,000 to National Republican Senate Committee Chairman John Cornyn’s Alamo PAC, and $5,000 to Citizens For Act, credit union champion Paul Kanjorski’s leadership PAC.

The leadership PACs allow interest groups such as CUNA to help congressional allies in addition to the $10,000 the groups are allowed to contribute to the candidates’ own campaign organization, according to Trey Hawkins, campaign director for CUNA. Federal election laws allow groups to double their contributions by giving separately to leadership PACs, $10,000 per two-year election cycle, according to Hawkins.

Even though almost every rank and file member now runs his own “leadership” PAC, CUNA, which runs one of the biggest PACs in the country, has put this to good use, helping build relationships with key congressional leaders, such as House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and his AmeriPAC; House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her PAC to the Future; and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and his Searchlight Leadership Fund or House Minority Leader John Boehner’s Freedom Project PAC or Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnel’s Bluegrass Committee.

If being allowed to double the legal campaign contribution to a single candidate can be seen as stretching a campaign dollar, then CUNA has made good use of leadership PAC contributions, having contributed more than $1 million to leadership PACs the past two elections. Through the end of May CUNA and its state league affiliates (the Michigan league is also very active in giving to leadership PACs), have contributed more than $300,000 to leadership PACs, according to monthly PAC reports filed with the Federal Election Commission.

Hawkins said there is no plan as to when CUNA contributes to a particular congressional leader but the timing is more determined by requests. “We get over 100 invitations [to fundraisers] a week,” said Hawkins, who oversees CUNA’s campaign contributions, which will exceed $4 million this election cycle, putting CUNA in the top tier of campaign PACs.

Still, some of last month’s contributions can be seen as having strategic motives. A $2,500 contribution to Colorado Democrat Ed Perlmutter’s EDPAC came around the time Perlmutter was arguing for an exemption for credit unions from the consumer financial protection agency.

Republican Jeb Hensarling, who is fighting against the current interchange amendment to the bank bill on the same side as credit unions, received $1,000 for his Jobs Economy & Leadership, or JEB, Fund.

Kanjorski, a stalwart credit union supporter who has been rewarded with the most campaign contributions from CUNA and credit unions, has yet to show his hand on the critical interchange amendment.

The Independent Community Bankers Association, for example, made contributions to Rep. Boehner ($5,000); House Majority Whip Eric Cantor’s ERICPAC ($2,500); Hoyer’s AmeriPac ($2,500); Hensarling ($2,000); and House Financial Service’s ranking Republican Spencer Bachus’s Growth and Prosperity PAC ($2,500), who are all being counted on to defeat the interchange amendment.

The American Bankers Association contributed to Hoyer ($2,500); to Perlmutter’s EDPAC ($4,000); and Sen. Blanche Lincoln, the Arkansas Democrat fighting a close race for reelection who is the key player in the bank bill’s amendment on banks’ trading of financial derivatives ($2,500).

NAFCU, which has far less money to contribute to candidates than CUNA, has also made donations to leadership PACs, including $1,000 to McConnel’s Bluegrass PAC; $4,000 to Bachus’s Growth and Prosperity PAC; $5,000 to the liberal Blue Dog PAC and $2,500 to the House Conservatives Fund and $1,911 to Perlmutter’s EDPAC.


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