Year in review: Iowa politics in 2009 (part 2)

Following up on my review of news from the first half of last year, I’ve posted links to Bleeding Heartland’s coverage of Iowa politics from July through December 2009 after the jump.

Hot topics on this blog during the second half of the year included the governor’s race, the special election in Iowa House district 90, candidates announcing plans to run for the state legislature next year, the growing number of Republicans ready to challenge Representative Leonard Boswell, state budget constraints, and a scandal involving the tax credit for film-making.

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Iowa casinos, golf courses not fancy enough for Latham?

Representative Tom Latham has enjoyed some nice weekends on the dime of his For America’s Republican Majority PAC, I learned from a must-read piece by Jason Hancock at Iowa Independent.

A golf outing in West Virginia and a weekend getaway to Atlantic City, N.J., are just two of the trips taken this year by U.S. Rep. Tom Latham of Ames that have garnered the attention of campaign finance watchdogs.

That’s because the trips were paid for by Latham’s political action committee and touted as fundraising events, a practice that is legal but that government reform advocates contend turns the PAC into little more than a slush fund designed to skirt campaign finance law.

Go read Hancock’s piece for details on Latham’s fundraising trips to the Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort in Atlantic City and various high-end golf resorts in West Virginia and California. Latham’s PAC “raised $205,447 during the 2008 election cycle, with almost all of it coming from lobbyists, PACs and corporate leaders.”

A new report by ProPublica explains how leadership PACs function:

Legally, lawmakers are free to spend the leadership PAC money pretty much as they wish.

Lobbyists and lawmakers can — and do — use it to travel together to play golf at Pebble Beach, ride snowmobiles in Montana’s Big Sky Country and go deep-sea fishing in the Florida Keys. The lobbyists don’t pay the costs directly. They contribute to the leadership PAC, which then pays the lawmaker’s resort and travel bills.

Leadership PACs have grown steadily since they began cropping up in the 1970s. What separates them from campaign committees is that lawmakers are supposed to pass along the bulk of the money to other members of their party for their campaigns. That way, lawmakers with leadership PACs can earn their beneficiaries’ support when it comes time to divvy up committee chairmanships and other party leadership posts.

This system helps party leaders spread money to candidates with less money or tighter races. On the other hand, it also fuels the Washington money chase, allocates power in Congress based on fundraising prowess, and encourages lawmakers and lobbyists to mingle socially and recreationally as political money changes hands.

In this tough economy, couldn’t Latham encourage his corporate lobbyist buddies to golf, gamble and spread political money around in Iowa?  

In case you’re wondering whether everyone in Congress does what Latham’s been doing with his PAC, ProPublica’s report has lots more information on hundreds of leadership PACs. But Hancock notes that Iowa’s other members of Congress have used their leadership PAC money for campaign contributions and various expenses, as opposed to trips to high-end casinos and golf resorts.

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