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Democrats Dodge a PAC Bullet

In a move that went largely unnoticed Monday, Sen. Christopher "Kit" Bond (R-Mo.) pulled a provision from an appropriations bill that would have removed limits from donations by politicians' leadership political action committees to their national party.

The decision came amid threats by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.) to hold up the bill until the provision was removed.  McCain said today he was "pleased" by Bond's action. "I feel strongly that our nation's campaign finance laws should not be changed without adequate debate, amendments and votes," said McCain.   

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) commended the decision Tuesday, adding that he had made it clear to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) "that [Democrats] will not accept a conference report with reemergence of this provision."

This rare pullback by Republican leadership was a major win for Democrats. Why? Let's go to the math:

In the last decade, leadership PACs have become sine qua non for ambitious congressional lawmakers looking to curry favor with their colleagues and other party candidates. Campaign finance rules allow federal politicians to raise money into these funds while also maintaining a principal campaign committee.

Scores of these leadership PACs currently exist with millions of dollars collectively sitting in them. But a look at the largest on both sides of the aisle show that Republicans had much more to gain by lifting the donation limits. Take a look at a comparison of the respective party leaders' PACs:

* Senate Majority Leader Frist's Volunteer PAC had $1.1 million on hand as of June 30; Minority Leader Reid's Searchlight Fund had $170,000 on hand at that time.

* House Speaker Denny Hastert's (R-Ill.) Keep Our Majority PAC had $876,000 in the bank at the end of August. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi's (D-Calif) PAC to the Future had $336,000 on hand through June.

In fact, Republicans control eight of the 10 leadership PACs that ended 2004 with the most cash on hand, according to Political Moneyline.

With Senate Republicans' decision to pull the provision, politicians will continue to be allowed to donate just $15,000 a year from their leadership PACs to national party committees -- keeping the huge GOP bankrolls tied up in the respective accounts. 

You can almost hear the collective sigh of relief from Democrats around Washington.

By Chris Cillizza  |  October 18, 2005; 12:02 PM ET
Categories:  PAC Watch  
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