Meet the new villain of campaign fundraising: the leadership PAC. These once-obscure fundraising tools used to be reserved for rising political stars. Now, 70% of lawmakers in Congress have them—and the lax scrutiny that goes along with how the money gets spent. Most of the cash is supposed to be funneled back to the party or to other candidates, but weak oversight allows members to spend it pretty much however they like—swanky golf trips, personal portraits, Yankees tickets, you name it, reports ProPublica.
This isn't chump change: Lobbyists and specialist interests dumped $355 million—the second-biggest source of political money—into leadership PACs in the last three elections. Members of both parties indulge, but Republican Saxby Chambliss is singled out for his lavish taste in golf courses and transportation. His PAC spent $750,000 in 2008, but only about a quarter of it went to other candidates. The FEC has recommended forbidding personal use of the funds, but it's gotten no response. "All this is legal, even if it appears to make a mockery of the 2007 ethics reforms," write Marcus Stern and Jennifer LaFleur.