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Senate Freshmen, PAC-ing in the Money

Fresh off the biggest victories of their political lives, the newest members of the world's most deliberative body have engaged in the time-honored tradition of opening so-called "leadership" political action committees.

Of the 11 freshmen senators, nine have PACs up and running in addition to the campaign committees that they use for their own election bids.

Some of the senators, such as Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), already had PACs when they were members of the House, so they are still operating their old PACs as members of the Senate.

But many of the new Senators opened brand new leadership PACs in their first weeks in office. The freshmen senators are continuing a trend of rank-and-file members of Congress establishing leadership PACs. In the past leadership PACs were mostly created and used by congressional leaders -- hence the name "leadership PAC." (One online watchdog, CQ PoliticalMoneyLine, has stopped using the phrase leadership PAC and instead calls them "politician PACs".)

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), for example, opened up her PAC, Missourians for Accountability and Change, the day after Christmas, according to records with the Federal Election Commission. Her PAC registration came less than two months after she won a grueling election in which she raised and spent more than $10.6 million to defeat incumbent Jim Talent (R-Mo.), and more than a week BEFORE she was actually sworn in as a Senator.

"I probably won't raise any money for it for a while, but I want to be able to help other people the way they helped me," McCaskill said in a brief interview last month.

Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) is in the process of opening up his new committee, Treasure State PAC. And Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) opened her PAC, officially known as the Follow the North Star Fund, on Jan. 22.

PACs operated by members of Congress have become one of the most indispensable tools of raising money for tough campaigns. In her race against Talent, McCaskill took in more than $251,000 worth of PAC checks from incumbent members of Congress, according to CQ PoliticalMoneyLine.

McCaskill cannot use any money she raises for her MAC PAC for her own campaign in 2012, but she can dole out checks to other candidates of up to $5,000 for primary elections and another $5,000 for general elections.

As candidates, McCaskill, Tester and others can only accept checks of $2,300 from individuals for their campaigns, but they can collect checks of $5,000 per year from individuals for their PACs.

Klobuchar told Capitol Briefing that her initial move to open the PAC was to help recovering Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.), who had brain surgery in mid-December. "Tim Johnson's going to need help, and I wanted to help," she said.

Out of the freshmen class, only Sen. Robert Casey (D-Pa.) and Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) have not yet opened PACs. Both told Capitol Briefing they were suffering from what could only be described as fund-raising fatigue from their campaigns: Casey raised more than $17.2 million to unseat incumbent Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), while Corker raised more than $13 million and loaned his campaign more than $4 million of his own money to defeat Harold Ford Jr. (D-Tenn.).

Even so, both told Capitol Briefing they expect to open PACs.

"I'll eventually have to get around to doing that," Casey said.

Here's a breakdown of each freshmen Senator and the name of their PAC:

Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio)-- America Works

Ben Cardin (D-Md.) -- Leg PAC

Robert Casey (D-Pa.) -- n/a

Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) -- n/a

Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) -- Follow the North Star Fund

Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) -- Missourians for Accountability and Change

Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) -- New Millenium

Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) -- Progressive Voters of America

Jon Tester (D-Mont.) -- Treasuer State PAC

Jim Webb (D-Va.) -- Born Fighting

Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) -- Hope

Source: Senators, FEC

By Paul Kane  |  March 26, 2007; 5:58 PM ET
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