- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 21, 2015

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - U.S. Sen. Mike Rounds, like many freshmen Republicans in the upper chamber of Congress, has created a political action committee often used to raise a politician’s profile and help get like-minded candidates elected.

The South Dakota lawmaker’s team started fundraising with the Peter Norbeck Leadership PAC last month, said Rob Skjonsberg, the assistant treasurer of the committee who also served as Rounds’ campaign manager during the 2014 race. Skjonsberg said the senator’s team is focused more on the leadership PAC than Rounds’ campaign committee, which had about $30,300 of debt at the end of June.

Skjonsberg said the last six or eight weeks of the 2014 Senate campaign were a “battle.” Rounds ultimately won handily in the November election.

The senator doesn’t face re-election until 2020, but Skjonsberg said they “fully intend to keep the majority in the U.S. Senate” and “want to do whatever we can do to help” candidates in the upcoming elections.

At least nine of the 12 freshmen Republican U.S. senators have a leadership PAC active for the 2016 election cycle, according to Federal Election Commission records.

Leadership PACs are often used to give contributions to other lawmakers to help secure a good committee post or build support for a leadership run, Viveca Novak, a spokeswoman for the Center for Responsive Politics said. The committees also can be used as another avenue for donations, she said.

Geoffrey Skelley, associate editor for Sabato’s Crystal Ball, a political analysis website run by the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, said “a very large number” of sitting senators have leadership PACs.

“If you can help (candidates) win, they will probably like you more and will probably be more inclined to work with you on issues that are important to you,” he said.

John Thune, South Dakota’s senior U.S. senator, formed the Heartland Values PAC in 2005, the year he was sworn into the Senate. Joshua Shields, campaign manager for Thune’s 2016 re-election bid, said Thune sees the PAC as a way to support like-minded candidates who “share his common-sense conservative values” and maintain Republican majorities in Congress.

The Heartland Values PAC raised roughly $1.5 million during the 2006 election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Skjonsberg said there’s not currently a fundraising goal for the Peter Norbeck Leadership PAC. It hasn’t yet reported fundraising to the Federal Election Commission.

Peter Norbeck was a U.S. senator from South Dakota and a former governor for the state. He played a key role in establishing the Mount Rushmore National Memorial in the 1920s. He died in 1936.

Rounds, who also served as governor, called Norbeck “a great role model” shortly after his inauguration to the Senate in 2015.

The Norbeck PAC’s launch event was a dinner with U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama as special guest, Skjonsberg said in an email. He said that a future event might include pheasant hunting in South Dakota.

“We are still fine tuning our creativity - no concerts or sporting events so far,” he said in the email. “In the future, we hope to incorporate our favorite pastime - shotguns, roosters and ribeyes.”

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