by Emma Baccellieri
Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) campaigning at Lauf Equipment Co. in Jefferson City, Mo. in March -- at the same time Donald Trump was 130 miles away. (AP Photo/David A. Lieb)
Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt was nowhere to be found at his party's nominating convention in Cleveland this week, despite being vice chair of the Senate Republican conference. That has nothing to do with his feelings about the guy at the top of the ticket, he's said; he's in the middle of a tight re-election race and is using the time to campaign, like a number of other embattled GOP senators.
Despite being in a close contest, though, Blunt may not be making maximum use of one of the tools at his disposal: His leadership PAC. The top expenditure for Rely on Your Beliefs PAC -- which shrinks to the fitting acronym ROYB -- isn't for fundraising or communications or travel. Instead, it's one staffer's salary.
It isn't particularly uncommon for a candidate or a political committee to direct more than half of its operating expenditures to a single source -- one communications firm or consulting group, for example, which then hires other contractors to perform various tasks. But only a handful send more than half their outlays in an election cycle to a single individual. Topping this short list in 2012, 2014 and now 2016? Blunt's leadership PAC, which has paid its executive director, Keri Ann Hayes, hundreds of thousands of dollars each cycle, making her one of the highest paid individuals to hold such a position.
When Blunt was a member of the House from 1996-2010, his PAC's spending profile was fairly typical. Big recipients included communications groups, strategy firms and resorts that played host to large fundraising events, with various administrative costs making up much of the rest of the group's disbursements. But after Blunt was elected to the Senate in 2010, those patterns shifted.
Hayes, who has worked with the PAC for at least a decade, was paid less than $50,000 per cycle in 2008 and 2010. Then that spiked to nearly $300,000 in 2012 and more than $410,000 in 2014, with her salary making up more than half the committee's operating expenditures every two years. And so far in 2016, she has received more than $160,000, or nearly 70 percent of the PAC's spending.
That's in addition to more than $120,000 she has received directly from Blunt's candidate committee this cycle, paid to her married name of Keri Ann Tatusko rather than her maiden name of Hayes. In total, from 2011 through the end of June 2016, Blunt's PAC and candidate committee have made payments to Hayes totaling $1 million.
At the listed address for Blunt's leadership PAC, there was only a paper sign taped to the door and nobody inside. And the sign referred to Blunt's campaign committee, not the PAC. (Photo: Emma Baccellieri/OpenSecrets.org)
Reached by phone and provided with the above figures by email, Hayes declined to comment for this story. We received no response to a request for comment from the campaign, either. A visit to the PAC's office -- a single room on the top floor of an office a few blocks from the Capitol, a building boasting the largest private conference space on Capitol Hill -- found nobody home.
It's unclear whether Hayes hires any subcontractors or vendors with the sums she is paid. Her Rely on Your Beliefs payments are listed as "PAC Salary and benefits," while her candidate committee payments have been variously categorized as "wages and withholding," "payroll and withholding," "wages and benefits," and "payroll and benefits."
Rely on Your Beliefs typically raises more than it spends -- pulling in more than $700,000 so far this cycle and $1.2 million and $1.1 million in 2014 and 2012, respectively -- so even with the large payments to Hayes, the group still has plenty of cash on hand. It's funded mainly by the PACs of corporations and trade groups like Altria, Ernst & Young and the National Beer Wholesalers Association.
The PAC still has a communications firm and data services among its vendors, but in a reduced capacity compared to what was seen during Blunt's time in the House -- neither has received more than $40,000 since he was elected to the Senate.
Many leadership PACs have few or no salary expenses -- individuals may work for both a candidate's campaign committee and leadership PAC, and the PAC often operates as a fundraising vehicle that supports the campaign without making any payments to individual staffers. Senators are limited in how they can use their campaign money, but there are few such rules governing spending by leadership PACs. Like many, Rely on Your Beliefs contributes funds outside of its operating expenditures to other lawmakers and party committees: nearly $560,000 in the 2014 midterm cycle, for instance.
Even ignoring the money that Hayes has received directly from Blunt's candidate committee, the hundreds of thousands in dollars that she has been paid by Rely on Your Beliefs stand out. In 2012 and 2014, she was paid more than any other individual by a leadership PAC; in the 2016 cycle, she is in second place, behind Laura Sequeira and the $215,000 she has received as finance director of Sen. Mitch McConnell's (R-Ky.) leadership PAC.
By comparison, the leadership PAC of Blunt's fellow Missouria senator, Claire McCaskill, hasn't paid any individual more than $1,000 in this election cycle. Several Senate leadership PACs have not made direct payments to any individuals at all.
Blunt is running for a second term against Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander, a former Army intelligence officer who has fronted an aggressive advertising campaign against Blunt. Though Blunt's incumbent status means that his cash on hand far exceeds that of Kander -- to the tune of $5.5 million to $2.8 million in their last FEC filings -- Kander actually slightly outraised Blunt in the opening months of this year and has done particularly well with small donors, receiving more than $600,000 from contributions of less than $200, compared to less than $190,000 for Blunt. Though their FEC reports for the most recent quarter have not yet been released, Blunt's campaign claimed to have raised $2.3 million between April and June, compared to the $1.75 million reportedly raised by Kander's campaign.