WASHINGTON — Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, has raised and distributed tens of thousands of additional dollars to congressional candidates using a practice that campaign finance experts say could skirt federal limits.
Pelosi, the Democratic whip and a leading advocate of campaign finance reform, raised and spent the money through two political action committees, known as leadership PACs. The PACs are called PAC to the Future and Team Majority.
Several campaign finance experts said the second PAC would effectively allow Pelosi to get around limits in federal law. They said they are unaware of a politician using two leadership PACs and treating them as if they were unrelated to each other.
PACs are considered affiliated — meaning they must adhere to limits as if they were one — when they are under the control of the same person. Federal law limits PAC contributions to candidates to $5,000 per election. Donors to PACs can give $5,000 annually.
“Everybody’s saying they’re her leadership PACs,” said former Federal Election Commission general counsel Larry Noble, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics. “If that means she controls them, then they’re affiliated. I’m not sure what else that could mean.”
Pelosi’s PAC to the Future gave the maximum contribution to 26 Democratic candidates for Congress, including Assemblyman Dennis Cardoza in the San Joaquin Valley, according to FEC records. Her Team Majority then gave those candidates a total of $127,500 more, mainly in $5,000 increments.
Sixteen donors, including San Francisco financier William Hambrecht, wrote $5,000 checks to PAC to the Future and gave an additional $5,000 to Team Majority. Five contributors gave to both PACs on the same day.
But Pelosi’s political organization is proceeding as if the PACs are unaffiliated, noting that they have different addresses and different custodians, said former Lt. Gov. Leo McCarthy, the treasurer for both PACs.
“I think we’re in compliance with FEC regulations. We made a good faith effort to make sure we went about this in the correct way,” McCarthy said.
Pelosi’s office referred all inquiries about the PACs to McCarthy.
McCarthy said an FEC analyst told him there was no impediment to setting up a second leadership PAC of which he would be treasurer. He said he did not ask for a formal opinion from the commission when he established Team Pelosi in the spring.
He changed the name to Team Majority after the FEC told him leadership PACs cannot have candidates’ names in their titles.
The existence of the second PAC was first reported by Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper. “The main reason for the creation of the second PAC, frankly, was to give twice as much hard dollars,” McCarthy told Roll Call in its Wednesday edition.
Later, in an interview with The Associated Press, McCarthy said the second PAC was designed “to stimulate contributions separately” from PAC to the Future.
The key issue, said former FEC lawyer Ken Gross, is whether the PACs are affiliated. “The FEC’s anti-proliferation rules are specifically designed to prevent the proliferation of PACs to get around the limits.”