PAC Gave Livingston Clout in Speaker Challenge
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, November 11, 1998; Page A
When House Appropriations Chairman Bob Livingston (R-La.) decided last spring to make a bid for speaker, one of his first orders of business was setting up a political action committee.
Livingston's leadership PAC was aptly named "B.O.B.S. PAC," for "building our bases," and the new fund-raising tool allowed him to do just that.
In the space of six months, B.O.B.S. PAC became one of the largest leadership PACs on the Hill. In a coast-to-coast, industry-by-industry fund-raising drive, it took in more than $1 million and handed out close to $800,000 in contributions to Republican candidates, much of it to the House members whose votes Livingston needs to succeed outgoing Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.).
That money came on top of the more than $600,000 Livingston gave to the party and individual candidates out of his personal campaign funds, and the separate events that Livingston – a big draw as Appropriations chair – hosted directly to support GOP contenders.
Although he started the PAC with the idea of following – not ousting – Gingrich, Livingston found it to be a crucial asset as he decided to challenge the speaker in the wake of last week's GOP election losses. And when Gingrich opted to step down rather than fight hours after Livingston's announcement, the goodwill that Livingston's PAC created among GOP lawmakers helped him push other would-be speakers out of the race in just three days.
"They know Bob helped," Livingston supporter Rep. Ron Packard (R-Calif.) said of members considering whether to back Livingston. "And when you go and call and ask, it's easier to get their commitment." Overall, the PAC's most recent reports show, Livingston backed 44 House GOP winners and 53 losing House candidates.
Now, as Livingston prepares to assume the speakership, his rise offers a case study in modern political fund-raising, in which lawmakers can pick from a toolbox of techniques to maximize their financial prowess and thereby increase their political clout.
Lawmakers like Livingston, who face little or no opposition in their races at home, nonetheless raise millions in their personal campaign war chests not only to stave off opponents but also to spread the wealth among needier candidates and party committees. In last week's election, for example, Livingston was unchallenged, but his personal campaign committee still took in nearly $1 million, of which he sent half to the National Republican Congressional Committee and $130,000 to help party candidates.
Even with that, Livingston and other powerful members find advantage in setting up their own PACs, which allows them to take in more money from donors and to give more out to candidates.
While a candidate's own committee is limited to donations of $1,000 maximum, the maximum PAC donation is $5,000. Likewise, a candidate's committee can give $1,000 to a fellow candidate, but a leadership PAC can contribute up to $5,000.
And Livingston exploited another opening in the campaign finance laws that allowed his PAC to steer even more than the $5,000 maximum to candidates. It took tens of thousands of dollars in "earmarked" checks made out to individual candidates from corporate PACs and passed on the money to grateful campaigns, essentially serving as a legal conduit for such PACs as United Parcel Service, Bell Atlantic and Atlantic Richfield.
"From our point of view it helps out our candidates," said a PAC official. "If they're looking at it and saying, 'These guys have not only maxed out to us but they're passing on these checks,' if that provides us with some goodwill, that's great."
All that has made leadership PACs a seemingly obligatory element in building a modern political machine, a way for politicians to help themselves by helping others. "Everyone seems to do it," Livingston said when the PAC was formed. "The fact is, they allow you to give more money."
Packard, who along with Rep. Michael P. Forbes (R-N.Y.) encouraged Livingston to launch the PAC, explained it succinctly: "Every key member of Congress has had one."
A look at the help Livingston provided to Rep. Jon D. Fox (R-Pa.), an endangered sophomore who ended up losing, explains how the toolbox works. First, Livingston dipped into his personal campaign funds to give Fox the maximum $1,000. He also gave the maximum $5,000 through the PAC. Then, he passed on checks from other PACs, $5,000 from the National Association of Convenience Stores, and $1,000 from the MORPAC, the Mortgage Bankers of America.
Georgetown University political scientist Clyde Wilcox said the committees were useful not so much to curry favor among potential supporters as to signify a member's ability to play in the fund-raising big leagues. "It's kind of a gesture of the ability to raise money," he said. There's an expectation that you . . . are able to raise money and share the wealth."
Livingston found a lot of wealth to share. Packard said he arranged fund-raising events for Livingston in California that brought in about $150,000. One event at a Beverly Hills restaurant was attended by the chairman of Northrop Grumman, a member of the defense industry that has long supported Livingston. Forbes raised even more in New York, Packard added.
James C. Pruitt, a former Livingston staffer now a lobbyist here for Texaco Inc., helped organize Washington corporate interests. The PACs of two of the leading lobbying groups in town, Williams & Jensen and Cassidy & Associates, sponsored fund-raising events for Livingston. The Cassidy firm is known for working the Appropriations Committee for clients seeking money earmarked for specific projects.
"Bob has always been a pro-business member of Congress," said Dean Sackett, a former Livingston staff member whose group, the National Association of Professional Insurance Agents, wrote the first check to the Livingston PAC. "He advocates positions that the K Street community [of lobbyists] can look to."
Sackett sponsored a PAC fund-raiser for insurance interests in April that he said raised more than $40,000. And his PAC found another way to pump up Livingston: it sent checks straight to some candidates but added a cover letter saying it was "on the recommendation of Congressman Bob Livingston."
By the close of the campaign, the Livingston PAC was so flush with funds that it began giving to GOP Senate and gubernatorial candidates as well. One $5,000 check even went to Wisconsin Senate candidate Mark Neumann, an Appropriations Committee member who got into a renowned shouting match with Livingston over a spending bill.
Now that Livingston's ascension to the speakership is virtually certain, fund-raising may be even easier. The PAC's receipts are approaching $1.3 million, and money has been pouring in since Gingrich's exit, a PAC official said. "Our treasurer's just overwhelmed right now."
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