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Eric Cantor Staffer Creating Leadership Super PAC

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WASHINGTON -- The deputy chief of staff to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) is leaving the congressman's office to start a leadership super PAC designed to help retain and expand the Republican majority in the House and enhance Cantor's standing within his caucus.

According to reports from Politico and National Journal, John Murray, Cantor's deputy chief of staff, is set to head a new super PAC that will focus on supporting candidates who fit within the “Young Guns” program run by Cantor, Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and espoused in their 2010 book titled "Young Guns: A New Generation of Conservative Leaders."

Cantor, McCarthy and Ryan started the “Young Guns” program before the 2008 elections in attempt to play offense and flip Democratic seats into the Republican column. The program was incredibly successful in the 2010 midterm elections and freshman lawmakers find Cantor to be more receptive than other members of GOP leadership.

Super PACs are independent political committees that can accept unlimited contributions from corporations, unions, and individuals. A leadership Super PAC would bring these benefits to bear in the internal race for power within party caucuses.

“The office-holder super PAC represents the first time since 1974 that big money donors can provide unlimited contributions to support the efforts of elected office-holders,” said Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, a campaign finance reform non-profit organization. “This is going to spread like wildfire with members of Congress.”

“It marks the beginning of a new trend that we are seeing,” said Craig Holman of the public interest group Public Citizen. “It is expected that anyone who has a political action committee is going to turn these into super PACs or create a separate super PAC.”

If previous trends in congressional fundraising are any indication, the rise of leadership super PACs will likely spark an arms race among members of Congress to raise unlimited money. A similar fundraising push accompanied the rise of traditional leadership PACs.

Almost half of all current members of Congress currently have a leadership PAC. These committees enable them to raise extra money that they use to help fund the campaigns of fellow lawmakers, raising their own profiles in the process. Leadership PACs, unlike super PACs, are restricted by contribution limits, although those limits are higher than the ones imposed on candidate campaign committees. Money raised by leadership PACs cannot be spent on campaign advertisements or other election-related expenditures; it can only be donated to a fellow lawmaker or candidate's campaign. The lawmaker operating the PAC may also use the money for non-election related activities.

Lawmakers have used leadership PACs to rise within the party ranks since 1979, when Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) used his PAC to contribute to Democratic members of the House Commerce Committee as he sought to leapfrog over more senior members into the chairmanship of the Health Subcommittee. Most members who received Waxman’s financial support voted for him, though some ultimately returned the money. Waxman won the chairmanship and leadership PACs became a necessary device for lawmakers seeking to rise in Congress. There are currently at least 237 active leadership PACs.

Now, more congressmen than ever are starting leadership PACs. Freshmen lawmakers have started 31 leadership PACs this year alone, the highest number of new committees started in at least the past decade. By early October in previous post-election years, the highest number of freshmen leadership PACs created was 11 in 2009; four of these were started before the member was even elected to a full term.

Super PACs have rapidly evolved since Citizens United, the Supreme Court case that paved the way for their formation, was decided in January 2010. At first they were largely committees operated by party insiders or interest groups working to elect broad swathes of candidates. Earlier this year, however, former aides of presidential candidates began to start super PACs intended to support specific presidential candidates. The first was Restore Our Future, a super PAC that backs former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. Then came Priorities USA Action, which supports President Barack Obama. There are currently at least 12 operating super PACs that support various Republican primary candidates.

Lawmakers and candidates are also allowed to raise money for super PACs so long as the candidate does not specifically ask for unlimited contributions. A lawmaker could, however, speak at a fundraiser for a super PAC and be followed by another individual soliciting unlimited donations.

WATCH Paul Blumenthal discuss leadership super PACs on MSNBC's "The Dylan Ratigan Show":

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