Cawthorn’s trip to Miami highlights questionable spending

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Madison Cawthorn, who represents North Carolina’s westernmost district, is in a heated primary battle for the Republican nomination. His campaign has been plagued by leaked video, legal issues and questions about his campaign finances, with the final focus being a sex tape. Some political advocates also question the dollar spending of the PAC, which Cawthorn did while on a vacation trip.

Federal campaign reports show Rep. Madison Cawthorn used money donated to her political action committee for a New Year’s trip to Miami. While not illegal, supporters call these leadership PACs “slush funds” that allow donations to be used for things, like expensive dinners in Miami, and question the practice.


What do you want to know

  • Rep. Madison Cawthorn used her executive PAC money to pay for a New Year’s trip to Miami, according to reports from the Federal Election Commission
  • Supporters refer to leadership PACs as Cawthorn’s “slush funds” because they can be used for personal expenses like hotels and restaurants
  • The western North Carolina congressman’s campaign has been plagued by leaked videos and legal troubles, including a recent incident when police say he tried to smuggle a gun fired by airport security.
  • Cawthorn faces a tough race in North Carolina’s May 17 primaries as he seeks a second term in the House

Cathorn PAC leadership records appear to show three charges for the Hotel Gabriel Miami Downtown on New Years Eve totaling nearly $950. There are also Uber charges of $131 that night, as well as two charges from Allegiant Air for a total of $529 on December 30.

Using money from a leadership PAC to pay for things like travel and hotel rooms isn’t illegal, according to campaign finance experts.

“Leadership PACs are known as slush funds with good reason. Leadership PACs are intended to allow candidates to raise and contribute money to other candidates. But more often than not, these funds will personally enrich the fundraiser candidate,” Stuart McPhail said with Citizens. for accountability and ethics in Washington.

“While the law prohibits candidates from spending campaign contributions on themselves, the FEC does not apply this prohibition to the candidate’s Leadership PAC,” he said.

Cawthorn spokesperson Luke Ball did not respond to detailed questions emailed to the campaign for this story. It’s unclear whether the trip to Miami was recreational or related to his campaign.

“The law needs to be reformed,” said Saurav Ghosh, director of federal reform at the Campaign Legal Center. “Members of Congress use their leadership PACs much like slush funds for the kinds of expenses they know they can’t afford using their campaign committees.”

The problems seem to be piling up even as early voting continues for the May 17 primary. On April 26, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department said it cited the congressman for attempting to smuggle a handgun through airport security. It was the second time airport security had discovered Cawthorn carrying a loaded gun on a plane.

Cawthorn also faces charges of driving with a revoked license.

Former President Donald Trump backed Cawthorn in his bid for re-election this year. But most Republican leaders in North Carolina endorsed Cawthorn’s opponent Chuck Edwards, including Sen. Thom Tillis and GOP leaders in the North Carolina House and Senate.

On Wednesday, a group opposed to Cawthorn released a video that appeared to show the congressman naked in a hotel bed with someone else.

Cawthorn acknowledged the video on Twitter on Wednesday. “Years ago in this video I was being rude to a friend, trying to be funny,” he said. “We act stupid and joke around.”

Muckrakers PAC posted the video on their Fire Madison Cawthorn site. In a statement, PAC Chairman David Wheeler said, “This video was forwarded to us by a former supporter and major donor of Rep. Cawthorn who wishes to remain anonymous.”

Cawthorn Leadership PAC

Like nearly every other member of Congress, Cawthorn has what’s called a leadership PAC, where he can take donations separately from his official campaign.

McPhail of Citizens for Responsibility & Ethics in Washington described these PACs as “slush funds” that allow candidates to spend donor money without the same kinds of restrictions as their official campaign accounts.

They can also raise more money from big donors. Leadership PACs have separate donation limits from campaign fundraising.

“That means laws that strictly limit what a donor can give to a candidate, and then strictly limit what the candidate does with those funds, can be circumvented,” McFail said.

“A maximum donor can donate tens of thousands of dollars more to that same candidate’s Leadership PAC in the same cycle, and the candidate is largely free to pocket that money,” he said.

Leadership PACs were originally created to allow members of Congress to donate money to other candidates’ campaigns, said longtime DC campaign finance attorney Brett Kappel.

“Some members have raised extraordinary sums,” he said.

Since the start of 2021, Cawthorn’s leadership PAC, called Making a Difference in Service to Our Nation, has raised more than $71,000, according to the Federal Election Commission. Much of this came from another PAC called the Cawthorn Triumph Committee.

FEC rules mean it was legal for Cawthorn to use funds donated to his Miami New Year’s Eve PAC.

Cawthorn regularly uses his leadership PAC to pay for expensive hotel stays and meals, including an $800 tab at Bar Tulia in Naples, Fla., on January 5, and receipts for more than $2,800 in a Marriott in Miami dispersed between January 31 and February 31. 2.

There is an $835 bill from a Ritz Carlton hotel in Florida from January 28.

There is also a $1,386 bill for food and beverages from the event at the Trump International Hotel on October 29, 2021. The PAC reimbursed Cawthorn Chief of Staff Blake Harp for the same amount on the same day , according to FEC records.

He also contributed to other campaigns, the original intent of leadership PACs. The Cawthorn PAC has donated to the campaigns of Marjory Taylor Greene, Patrick Witt and Markwayne Mullin since October.

As early voting continues ahead of the May 17 primary in North Carolina, the bad news continues to pile up for Cawthorn. But the congressman said he would continue to campaign for Republican nomination and re-election.

“I am NOT backing down. I told you there would be a drip campaign,” he tweeted on Wednesday. “Blackmail will not win. We’re going.”

Cawthorn faces stiff competition in the primary with eight Republicans vying for the nomination. The top contenders are Edwards, the GOP establishment nominee, and Michele Woodhouse, who ran as an America First alternative candidate on the right.

If no candidate wins more than 30% of the vote, the primary for North Carolina’s 11th congressional district will go ahead on July 26.

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