Rep. Josh Gottheimer spent $2,420 in 'leadership PAC' money at DC restaurants District Taco and Capital Grille: report

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Rep. Josh Gottheimer spent $2,420 in 'leadership PAC' money at DC restaurants District Taco and Capital Grille: report
Democratic Rep. Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey speaks to reporters outside of the House Chambers of the U.S. Capitol on September 23, 2021. Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images
  • Rep. Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey spent just 17% of his "leadership PAC" funds on political activity.
  • He shelled out thousands for other expenses, including $1,600 at District Taco and $820 at the Capital Grille.
  • Leadership PACs used for political fundraising can become lawmaker "slush funds," watchdogs warn.

Democratic Rep. Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey, who is currently at the center of a progressive versus moderate fracas over the Democrats' $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill, has spent thousands of dollars intended for political activity on food and airfare.

That includes $7,000 meals and catering and $2,600 on airfare from January 2019 and December 2020, according to a new report on leadership PAC spending. In total, Gottheimer's committee spent $590,000 during that same period.

Other expenses include:

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  • $1,600 at District Taco, a DC-based taco restaurant
  • $1,200 at the Stony Hill Inn in New Jersey
  • $820 at the Capital Grille, a pricey DC steakhouse
  • $770 at Santa Rosa Taqueria in Washington, D.C.
  • $180 for the CLEAR biometric identity verification service that lets people get through airport security faster.

Altogether, Gottheimer's "Jersey Values" leadership PAC spent just 17% of its funds on strictly political activities - donating to other candidates and political groups - while spending the rest on a mixture of consulting fees, administrative expenses, and of course, transportation and meals.

Gottheimer's congressional office did not respond to a request for comment regarding the spending.

But what is a leadership PAC? 92% of all members of Congress have one, ostensibly using them to raise money and contribute to like-minded candidates and causes.

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That's according to a new report on "leadership PAC" spending from Issue One and the Campaign Legal Center, two groups that track the influence of money in politics. The report also found that the average member of Congress spent just 70% of their leadership PAC funds on politics, while 120 members spent less than 50% of their funds on political activity.

In 1978, Democratic Rep. Henry Waxman got approval from the Federal Election Commission for their creation for these purposes, but due to lax rules around spending, they can in practice become what watchdogs call a "slush fund" for lawmakers. Waxman has since said that the abuse that these PACs face is a "loophole that ought to be closed."

"Too many members of Congress are using leadership PACs to enrich themselves," said Adav Noti, senior director for trial litigation and chief of staff at Campaign Legal Center. "When candidates use funds given by donors for personal expenses, the risk for corruption is heightened - it raises concerns that wealthy special interests, expecting favors in return, are aiding what is essentially a slush fund that allows an elected official to live a lavish lifestyle."

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