On Leadership PACs


Why I filed H. 3077

Sometimes efforts to fix a problem actually make the problem worse.

Buried in a package of 15 rules changes that were quickly adopted by the House on a voice vote during the organizational session on December 2nd was an amendment to House Rule 4.16 which banned legislators from having a “Leadership PAC.” I do support the notion that House and Senate leadership should not be allowed to wield the power of a large PAC as a carrot or as a stick over the members of the body in which they preside the way former Speaker Bobby Harrell did.

Sadly, this new rule does not accomplish it’s stated purpose.

Notwithstanding Section 8-13-1340, a member of the House shall not, directly or indirectly, establish, finance, maintain, or control any entity including, but not limited to, a noncandidate committee that receives or makes contributions as defined in Section 8-13-1300. This rule does not apply to a candidate committee or a legislative caucus committee.

I filed H. 3077 to strike this new rule for the following reasons:

1. Nothing is said about “leadership.” This doesn’t ban leadership from having PACs, it bans all members from having PACs. Why shouldn’t House members be able to raise money to help their friends out, or to oppose their enemies? After all, that’s exactly what our own former Sen. Jim DeMint did with the Senate Conservatives Fund, which played a significant role in the elections of 2008 elections of Sen. Marco Rubio and Sen. Pat Toomey, and the 2010 elections of Sen. Mike Lee and Sen. Rand Paul. As DeMint famously said, “I would rather have 10 Marco Rubios than 30 Arlen Specters.” Would any conservative argue that replacing Charlie Crist, Arlen Specter, and others was a bad thing for DeMint to have done?

2. Nothing is said about “PACs.” The actual term this rule uses is a noncandidate committee, which could, conceivably, advocate for or against issues as much as for or against candidates. In fact, South Carolina has no legal definition at all for a “PAC.” This blurry line cannot be fixed in a House rule; it will have to be addressed statutorily.

3. This rule specifically exempts legislative caucus committees. Caucus committees are essentially “super” PACs with different rules and higher contribution limits. The current Republican Caucus chairman also happens to be House Majority Leader Bruce Bannister. The Speaker of the House, Jay Lucas, also has outsized influence on Republican Caucus decisions by virtue of his position. If we don’t want leadership getting involved in each others races, then why exempt caucuses? It's worth noting that the House Republican Caucus did contribute to several House incumbents who had challengers in the 2014 primary.

You may dislike the role money plays in politics. I understand that. However, if allowed to stand, this new House rule will not reduce the role money plays in SC politics, rather, it will put more of it into the hands of House leadership. To use a crude analogy, it is like disarming legal gun owners while allowing thugs and criminals to walk the streets with guns.

Sometimes you have to fight fire with fire. That’s what I’m doing with H. 3077.