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Election '08: Wine & dine indicator

Restaurant table

TEXT OF STORY

SCOTT JAGOW: The presidential candidates are raking in the fundraising dough. First three months of the year, they brought in a record $128 million. Tomorrow, those 18 candidates have to report exactly how they're spending that money. Our Stephen Henn has a preview.


STEVE HENN: If you want to know where Hillary Clinton and her people like to eat, one place to look is campaign finance reports.

Starting last summer, HillPAC, Clinton's political action committee, dropped more than $1,200 on dinners at Dragon Fly — a restaurant lounge that specializes in sushi, sake and electronica.

Across town, Barack Obama's folks are more into Washington's Old School. They've been spending time and money at The Monocle, a Capitol Hill institution complete with dark paneling and politicians' portraits where Senators devour steaks in sartorial splendor.

All this dining out is paid for by the candidate's political action committees or leadership PACs, and all the leading presidential candidates have them.

Rudy Giuliani's PAC, Solutions America, dropped more than $54,000 on a fundraiser at the Four Seasons last summer.

STEVEN WEISSMAN: The kind of spending that a campaign committee does might be very similar to the kind of spending that a leadership PAC would do.

Steven Weissman is the associate director at the Campaign Finance Institute. He says by looking at how the candidates' PACs raise and spend money, you can get some hints about who their presidential campaigns are likely to hire, who they will hit up for cash and how fast they are likely to spend it.

WEISSMAN: These PACs can spend money on consultants, on travel. You can give gifts to your supporters. You can buy them meals.

You can even spend money on yourself.

Leadership PACs were supposed to be a way for party big-shots to raise campaign money and spread it around. But today, in some cases, they've become personal slush funds.

And for politicians eyeing a presidential bid, they are another important source of cash.

In the last election, the PACs run by the six leading presidential candidates gave away just $1.7 million. But they spent more than $20 million on themselves — for staff, research and fundraising, even the occasional goody.

In Washington, I'm Steve Henn for Marketplace.

About the author

Steve Henn was Marketplace’s technology and innovation reporter for the entire portfolio of Marketplace programs until December 2011.

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