Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum has tried to claim the mantle of fiscal conservatism during the 2012 campaign, claiming on his campaign website that he will “restrain spending by living within our means” if he makes it to the White House.
While he was still in the Senate, however, Santorum was unable to restrain his own spending — let alone America’s.
According to a 2006 story in The American Prospect, Santorum’s political action committee — “America’s Foundation” — spent thousands of dollars on fast food, coffee, and personal travel expenses.
Leadership PACs such as America’s Foundation are supposed to be a way for congressmen to raise money in support of the campaigns and PACs of their colleagues. America’s Foundation, however, spent just 18.1 percent of the $5,363,835 that it raised between 2001 and 2005 on other candidates and political committees (the lowest percentage of any leadership PAC reviewed by the Prospect.)
So what was the PAC spending its money on? A category that America’s Foundation called “other federal expenditures.” According to the Prospect, some of the items charged to Santorum’s PAC between 2001 and 2005 include:
-66 visits to various Starbucks, totaling $558.65
-$380 worth of coffee from HMS Host of Bethesda, MD
-A $175.05 meal at Smith and Wollensky’s steakhouse in Philadelphia, PA
-11 Arby’s meals totaling $118.25
-Four meals at various Burger Kings, totaling $50.36
-A $29 meal at TGI Friday’s in Pittsburgh
-Two meals at Giovanni’s New York Pizzaria in Leesburg, VA, totaling $21.73
-Several meals at Great Wall Express in Alexandria, VA, including one for just $5.74
-A $4.48 ice cream purchase at Ben & Jerry’s and a $3.71 purchase at Goodnoe Farms ice cream store
-A $2.49 purchase at an Auntie Anne’s pretzel store
Clearly, no charge was too small for Santorum’s PAC to bust out the company credit card. The committee also paid for several more expensive items, including hundreds of dollars of office supplies and tens of thousands of dollars in travel expenses.
Although Santorum’s spokesman at the time told the Prospect that every expense listed was related to the PAC’s mission, it’s hard to understand how 11 trips to Arby’s supported America’s Foundation’s mission of supporting Santorum’s congressional colleagues.
America’s Foundation’s odd spending habits raised eyebrows among campaign finance watchdogs. Larry Noble, the executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, told the Prospect that leadership PACs aren’t “supposed to be used as a slush fund or a coffee fund.”
Still, he doubted that it could be proven that Santorum violated any of the Federal Election Commission’s ridiculously lenient rules on PAC spending
“Leadership PACs are the Wild West of campaign money,” Meredith McGehee, policy director for the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center, told the Washington Post in 2006.
Santorum’s political slush fund is still paying dividends for him today; although America’s Foundation is now defunct, its aggressive coffee-buying habits helped Santorum earn a Starbucks gold card, which gives daily visitors “exclusive VIP treatment.”