A little-known campaign committee controlled by west suburban Congressman Peter Roskam has spent thousands of dollars on gifts; tens of thousands of dollars on ski trips and other travel, and hundreds of thousands of dollars on mysterious consulting contracts - all with minimal disclosure to the public, and all perfectly legal, NBC5 Investigates has found.
The committee -- called Republican Operation to Secure and Keep a Majority, or ROSKAM PAC -- is one of several so-called "Leadership PACs" controlled by various members of Illinois' U.S. congressional delegation. The PACs are a special type of campaign committee, set up by Congress, ostensibly for members to raise money for like-minded candidates and causes.
But in reality these Leadership PACs often serve as a legal means for members to rake in large donations - mainly from lobbyists and special-interest PACs - which they can then turn around and spend on almost anything they want - while keeping virtually all of the details a secret.
Twelve of Illinois' 20 members of Congress -- 10 U.S. Representatives and both U.S. Senators -- currently have Leadership PACs. Some are quite active, with hundreds of thousands of dollars flowing in and out of the PAC each year, while others lay virtually dormant.
NBC 5 Investigates first sought information concerning every Illinois-based PAC last December, by sending letters to each PAC treasurer and requesting details on individual expenditures. Only one member of the Illinois delegation responded with specific information and supporting documents -- U.S. Rep Mike Quigley of Chicago. A few others sent general statements saying that their particular PAC complied with federal rules and reporting regulations, but supplied no details on spending. Most did not respond at all.
That's because they don't have to. Beyond filing periodic reports showing who has donated and who has gotten paid, there is next to nothing required in the regulations governing these PACs, in terms of informing a congressman's constituents -- or the general public -- about how, or why, or who is benefiting from the money flowing through these PACs.
By far the most active Illinois-based Leadership PAC belongs to Peoria Congressman Aaron Schock, whose spending was detailed in an NBC5 Investigation in February. But Rep. Roskam's PAC is a close second - especially in terms of the amounts of money involved: In the past two years, both ROSKAM PAC and Schock's GEN-Y PAC each brought in roughly $1 million in donations, mainly from corporate PACs and lobbyists. Both PACs then sent about half of those funds to other causes and campaigns, but spent the other half (roughly) of on things allegedly related to managing the PAC itself: Trips, meals, gifts, mileage, consultants, and more.
For Roskam, who is currently in his fourth term as a Republican congressman based in Wheaton, those "PAC expenses" include annual spring ski vacations to Park City, Utah, with stays at the Hotel St. Regis in Deer Valley; airfare for several people, and ski and snowmobile rentals - all paid for with ROSKAM PAC money. Roskam's office refused repeated requests by NBC5 Investigates to provide even basic details of these ski trips, including who went, and what the trips were for.
The office is on solid legal ground. Because these expenses come from the Leadership PAC, as opposed to Roskam's regular campaign fund, he is allowed to keep all the details a secret.
"This is entirely hidden, and this is the kind of story that most constituents really know nothing about," says Melanie Sloan, Executive Director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a watchdog group based in Washington, D.C.
CREW has been lobbying for several years to prohibit congresspeople from using Leadership PAC funds for any kind of personal use.
"Members of Congress can live much more extravagant lifestyles than their salaries would suggest," Sloan says, "mostly because of this use of Leadership PAC funds."
NBC 5 Investigates found that Roskam's PAC has spent a total of $35,728.15 on travel and leisure expenses since January of 2012. Another $4,128.78 was just recently spent on items simply described as "PAC gifts."
Much more was spent on "PAC Fundraising" and "PAC Consulting," including $319,756.43 paid since 2012 to The Townsend Group, an seemingly obscure organization located in a modest townhome in Alexandria, VA. No one at The Townsend Group would tell NBC 5 Investigates what the group does for ROSKAM PAC, and no one in Rep. Roskam's office would say, either.
An identically-named company, which deals in real-estate investment consulting, is unrelated to the group funded by Roskam.
The money for these expenditures is donated to ROSKAM PAC from PACs controlled by corporations such as Comcast, Exelon, General Dynamics and General Motors.
"I think constituents have a right to wonder why somebody would give you so much money, and what they might want in return," says Sloan. "It's a completely reasonable question for any constituent to ask."
You can look at all of the money flowing in and out of ROSKAM PAC by looking at the reports it files with the Federal Election Commission.