Washington (CNN) – A source close to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor tells CNN a staff error is to blame for giving $25,000 to Campaign for Primary Accountability, an anti-incumbent super PAC.
News that the Republican leader gave money to a super PAC dedicated to defeating several of Cantor's rank-and-file Republicans has angered many in the House GOP, and Cantor is now scrambling to explain his actions.
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The source close to Cantor says that Rep. Aaron Schock, R-Illinois, told Cantor that he was giving $25,000 to the super PAC in order to help fellow Illinois Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger in his primary fight with another GOP incumbent, and asked Cantor to match it. Cantor agreed, and passed on the directive to his political aides.
"What appears to have happened is the staff didn't vet the group before cutting the check," said the Cantor source. A second Cantor source later told CNN the same thing.
This explanation was first reported by Politico.
Cantor was already making questionable moves for a GOP leader by actively helping Kinzinger, a freshman close to Cantor, in a primary race against 10 term incumbent Don Manzullo.
In fact, the Young Gun Action Fund super PAC - started by former aides to Cantor and House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy– ran $50,000 worth of radio ads to help Kinzinger defeat Manzullo.
But giving to the Campaign for Primary Accountability super PAC, which has been actively working to defeat GOP incumbents across the country, has upset House Republicans.
"That is just dangerous ground," one GOP congressman told CNN, speaking on condition of anonymity in order to speak more freely about Cantor.
"This is not what our leadership should be doing, taking out a Republican. I'm looking for words to describe this, it's just really aggressive," said the GOP lawmaker.
One GOP leadership source said Cantor's move could make it even more difficult than it already is to push rank-and-file Republicans to take tough votes on legislation in order to be a "team player" when their leader doesn't appear to be acting like a team player.
"Picking sides in incumbent races doesn't do us as leadership any favors," said the GOP leadership source.
Leo Linbeck, co-founder of Campaign for Primary Accountability, made clear in an interview on CNN's "OutFront" last week that the money Cantor gave went into their general fund used to try to defeat many House Republicans, like Rep. Tim Murphy of Pennsylvania and Rep. Spencer Bachus of Alabama.
"There's no earmarking of those dollars. They flowed in, we told everyone who the races we are engaging in," said Linbeck.
"We are delighted that the House leadership of the GOP shares our vision of creating real competition for entrenched incumbents. I mean, that's so forward thinking of them. You know, this idea that committee chairs and House leadership ought to actually have to compete for the support of their district. We applaud their foresight," he said.
The source close to Cantor says his staff realized their error in giving to the super PAC before it became public, and began making calls to the some 12 GOP congressmen his donation helped target.
Cantor sources said it's unclear whether he will explain himself more broadly by addressing the full House GOP conference when Congress returns from spring break next week.