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Las Vegas Strip. Photo courtesy Las Vegas News Bureau

Not just a draw for tourists, Las Vegas is also a popular stop for members of Congress who enjoy the city’s amenities “under the guise of fundraising” according to a spending analysis of leadership political action committees.

Ten members of Congress spent a total of $15,905 at Las Vegas hotels and restaurants in the the last three months of 2018, the study—conducted by Washington-DC-based watchdog groups Issue One and the Campaign Legal Center—found.

“Las Vegas is an incredibly popular destination for lawmakers of both parties to raise money for their leadership PACs,” said Michael Beckel, one of the study’s authors.

Leadership PACs are established by most members of Congress to support other candidates for federal and nonfederal offices. While lawmakers are prohibited from using funds raised for their own campaigns for personal use, no such prohibition currently exists for leadership PACs.

“Instead…members of Congress routinely use leadership PAC funds to pay for expensive meals, rounds of golf, and luxury hotel stays, often under the guise of fundraising,” the report said.

“In recent years, only a minority of leadership PAC spending — about 46% — has actually gone toward contributions to candidates and political groups, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics,” the report continued.

In 2018, the Federal Election Commission said it was considering issuing a rule on the public use of leadership PAC funds.  

Of the $15,905, Wyoming Republican Sen. John Barrasso’s Common Values PAC spent $9,699, including $3,962 at Morels French Steakhouse in December and $2,500 in October.

Barrasso, who is Republican Conference chairman, the number three spot in the GOP senate leadership, has raised his profile among Nevadans with his recent effort to pass legislation to restart the licensing process for Yucca Mountain. He is also chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee.

A spokesperson for Barrasso could not be immediately reached for comment.

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto spent $1,330 at Nevada establishments, the second most, followed by former Sen. Dean Heller, who spent $1,126. Sen. Kamala Harris of California, who is running for the Democratic nomination for president, spent $1,076. Cortez Masto’s biggest expense was $476 at the SLS Las Vegas. Harris’ largest expenditure was $799 also at the SLS Las Vegas.

House Majority Whip James Clyburn of South Carolina spent $665, former Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo of Florida spent $617, and Democratic Rep. Gregory Meeks of New York spent $543. Clyburn spent $485 at the Aria Hotel and Meeks spent $534 at the Venetian.

They were followed by Sen, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, who is also seeking the Democratic nomination, who spent $503. Sen. Mike Lee, a Republican from Utah, spent $295 and Sen. Cory Booker, a Democrat from New Jersey, who is also running for president, spent $46 at the Wynn Las Vegas Hotel.

“Members of Congress who represent Nevada raise money in Las Vegas, but so do members of Congress who represent places thousands of miles away from Las Vegas,” Beckel said. “When lawmakers come to Las Vegas to raise money, they aren’t staying at budget hotels. They are often staying at some of the fanciest resorts in town.”

Most, $6,462, was spent at Morels French Steakhouse. That was followed by $2,932 spent at the Palazzo, followed by $1,721 at the SLS Las Vegas, $1,126 at the Southpoint Hotel and $1,161 at the Venetian. The lawmakers spent $665 at the Aria Hotel, $600 at Cut By Wolfgang Puck, $503 at Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino and $450 at Las Vegas Embassy Suite. Another $295 was spent at Courtyard Marriott.

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