Washington • Rep. Jason Chaffetz is starting a new fundraising account with aims to help like-minded politicians while also boosting his own political clout in Congress.
He's naming his new political action committee BudgetHawks.com and says the money he raises will go to help only Republicans willing to fight hard to reduce the deficit.
"Being in Congress is a team sport and I want to help people get elected who are truly going to be budget hawks," he said. "We don't have enough of those around town."
Chaffetz will hold his first fundraiser for his fledgling leadership PAC, as they are called, this week in D.C., though he doesn't expect to raise much money during the holiday season.
The congressman, who was recently elected to his second term, has made no secret about his political ambitions, saying he is open to rising within House ranks while also keeping an eye on potential runs for Sen. Orrin Hatch's seat or the governor's office in 2012.
He said his new PAC "is a great way for me to also leverage politically."
Larry Sabato, who heads the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, said candidate-to-candidate giving helps politicians curry favor among colleagues and can lead to some plum assignments or help in tough elections down the road.
"They're competing with one another in a very intense environment for committee chairmanships, leadership positions and other [benefits,]" he said.
As such, leadership PACs are widespread throughout Washington. Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., spent more than $4 million helping tea party-backed candidates, such as Utah Sen.-elect Mike Lee, win their races. Prominent politicians, from outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Sarah Palin, have active accounts.
And with Chaffetz starting BudgetHawks, every member of Utah's federal delegation now has one. None is as large or as active as OrrinPAC, run by Hatch, which has raised nearly $500,000 in the past year alone. Hatch contributed $286,000 to candidates, mostly Senate Republicans or prominent Republican challengers, often giving the maximum $10,000, as he did for Sharron Angle of Nevada right before the election in her failed bid to unseat Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
He also gave more than $60,000 to state candidates through his leadership PAC and campaign account.
Rep. Jim Matheson quietly started his SkiPAC in November 2009, but he didn't actively contribute until the past few months, handing out $36,200 in donations to more than a dozen members of the Blue Dog Coalition, of which he is a leader. He also contributed to some Democrats running for state offices.
Earlier in the year, Matheson said the PAC was not something he did in concert with the Blue Dogs, but it was started with Blue Dog money and primarily helped out his friends in that moderate-to-conservative Democratic group.
Rep. Rob Bishop created his Pioneer PAC in 2008, and while he has raised about $16,600 since then, he has not spent any money. Instead Bishop gives through his campaign account, from which in the past two years he has sent $116,000 to the National Republican Congressional Committee and about $20,000 to individual state and federal candidates.
Chaffetz has given more than $30,000 to party committees and candidates through his campaign account, but said it would be more transparent for donors if he set up a separate leadership PAC.
"I think it would be a little bit cleaner if they donated to the leadership PAC knowing that that money would then be given to other candidates," he said. "There's an expectation when giving to a congressional campaign that the money is going to your re-election and your race." Candidate-to-candidate giving
Now that Rep. Jason Chaffetz just created BudgetHawks.com, each member of Utah's congressional delegation has a political action committee for the express purpose of donating to fellow politicians. The amount contributed may be more than the amount raised because of money held over from past years.
OrrinPAC • Sen. Orrin Hatch
Raised this year: $497,000
Contributions to federal candidates: $286,000
SnowPAC • Sen. Bob Bennett
Raised this year: $40,500
Contributions to federal candidates: $47,500
SkiPAC • Rep. Jim Matheson
Raised this year: $23,250
Contributions to federal candidates: $36,200
Pioneer PAC • Rep. Rob Bishop
Raised this year: $6,600
Contributions to federal candidates: $0
BudgetHawks.com • Rep. Jason Chaffetz*
Raised this year: $0
Contributions to federal candidates: $0
*PAC just formed
Source: FEC reports