Politics and money.Since 1944, when the Congress of Industrial Organizations set up the first political action committee (PAC) to help reelect re·e·lect also re-e·lect
tr.v. re·e·lect·ed, re·e·lect·ing, re·e·lects
To elect again.
re President Franklin D. Roosevelt, PACs have raised billions of dollars for thousands of candidates and causes. Today the Federal Election Commission (FEC See forward error correction.
FEC - Forward Error Correction ) administers and enforces the laws governing the more than 4,600 PACs that, according to the FEC, through June 30, 2006, raised $773.5 million in the 2005-2006 election cycle.
Some see these organizations and the money they inject into our elections as both a symbol and the cause of corruption. But I believe the opposite is true: I see a well-regulated process that successfully engages a broad range of Americans in our political system, while weeding out undue influence. PACs are a safe, mainstream way for citizens to meaningfully engage in politics.
PACs encourage political engagement
Put simply, political action committees allow corporations, trade unions, trade associations, groups of people with similar beliefs and others to raise money to make legal donations to candidates for federal office. This is important for the following two reasons:
* All Americans have a First Amendment right to support the candidates of their choice and to work with others who also support those candidates.
* It takes a lot of money to run for federal office in the modern era.
Corporations, trade unions and trade associations are prohibited from making direct contributions to federal candidates. The chief executive officer (CEO (1) (Chief Executive Officer) The highest individual in command of an organization. Typically the president of the company, the CEO reports to the Chairman of the Board. ) of a corporation or a trade association cannot, for example, write a check from the general funds of the company to the candidate of his or her choice. But company employees or employees of trade association members can combine their individual donations, through a PAC, to increase the impact of their money and collectively promote the candidates who support their issues.
PACs have been around for several decades, but their influence is truly at its peak today, thanks to a series of 2002 legislative reforms that banned the use of so-called soft money. Officially, soft money is money that escapes FEC regulation because it is, allegedly, not used to "influence any election for federal office." However, it had effectively become a way for corporate CEOs to write a large check from general company funds to the candidates of their choice.
According to the Campaign Finance Institute (CFI CFI
cost, freight, and insurance ), Washington, D.C., $495 million in soft money was raised by national parties in 2000.
The 2002 reforms have shut off the soft-money tap, but the cost of running for office has not decreased. So the importance of PACs will be even greater in this election cycle and in future years. And this is a good thing.
It is no longer an option for a union leader or CEO to cut a $100,000 check to the party. To successfully develop a PAC, leaders now have to put democracy into action. They have to reach out to individuals--members and employees--to make the case that political involvement is critical to each and every one of their jobs and to their communities. They have to politically engage a large group of people.
PACs are highly regulated
Yes, a large amount of money flows through PACs, but transparency accompanies these transactions. PACs must register with and file detailed financial reports of money raised and spent with the Federal Election Commission. And these are completely public records--you and I can check any of them online at any time.
PACs are also strictly limited in the amount of money they can contribute. PACs can only contribute $5,000 to a candidate committee per election (primary, general or special). They are also limited to $15,000 annually to any national party committee and $5,000 annually to any other PAC.
PACs bring many disparate voices to the political table
Contrary to popular belief, PACs do not exclusively represent the views of corporate America. Four types of PACS collected 99 percent of receipts in the most recent election cycle:
* 1,492 "non-connected" PACs that represent a group of people with a shared ideology (such as EMILY's List, the Pro-Life Campaign Committee and MoveOn PAC) made up almost one-third of total PAC receipts ($241.1 million.)
* 1,712 corporate PACs (such as UPS, Federal Express and Wal-Mart) represented a little more than one-fourth of the total PAC receipts ($205.5 million).
* 950 PACs that represent trade associations and other types of membership groups (such as the National Rifle Association National Rifle Association (NRA)
Governing organization for the sport of shooting with rifles and pistols. It was founded in Britain in 1860. The U.S. organization, formed in 1871, has a membership of some four million. Both the British and the U.S. [NRA NRA
(National Rifle Association of America) organization that encourages sharpshooting and use of firearms for hunting. [Am. Pop. Culture: NCE, 1895]
See : Hunting ], the National Association of Realtors The National Association of Realtors (NAR) is made up of residential and commercial realtors who are brokers, salespeople, property managers, appraisers, and counselors, and others working in the real estate industry. [R] [NAR NAR National Association of REALTORS
NAR Nucleic Acids Research (journal)
NAR National Association of Rocketry
NAR Nationale Arbeidsraad (Dutch: National Labor Council; Brussels, Belgium) ], the Association of Trial Lawyers of America The Association of Trial Lawyers of America (ATLA) is a nonprofit organization that represents the interests of personal injury attorneys. The ATLA is the world's largest trial bar organization, with about 60,000 members worldwide. [ATLA ATLA Association of Trial Lawyers of America
ATLA American Theological Library Association
ATLA American Trial Lawyers Association
ATLA Air Transport Licensing Authority (Hong Kong)
ATLA Avatar: The Last Airbender ] and the American Medical Association American Medical Association (AMA), professional physicians' organization (founded 1847). Its goals are to protect the interests of American physicians, advance public health, and support the growth of medical science. [AMA (Automatic Message Accounting) The recording and reporting of telephone calls within a telephone system. It includes the calling and called parties and start and stop times of the call. ]) made up a little more than one-fifth of receipts ($158.8 million).
* 299 labor-related PACs (such as the Service Employees International Union [SEIU SEIU Service Employees International Union
SEIU Special Education Intake Unit
SEIU Secondary Education Interdisciplinary Unit
SEIU Software Engineering Institute Union ] and the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), largest union of public employees in the United States. It began as a number of separate locals organized by a group of Wisconsin state employees in the early 1930s. [AFSCME AFSCME American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees ]) made up one-fifth of receipts ($153.6 million).
Politics is a human endeavor, and will always reflect the best and worst of us. But we have, through the mechanism of PACs, hit upon a system that engages more citizens while effectively balancing our constitutional right to participate in the political process with the need to defend against secretive and undue influence.
Kurt Pfotenhauer is senior vice president of government affairs with the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA MBA
Master of Business Administration
Noun 1. MBA - a master's degree in business
Master in Business, Master in Business Administration ) in Washington, D.C. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
RELATED ARTICLE: Top-10 PACs
A look at the top 10 political action committees (PACs) by receipts collected between Jan. 1, 2003, and June 30, 2004, gives a good sense of the breadth of PAC representation.
1. EMILY's List: $20,143,427 2. Service Employees International Union Committee on Political Education (SEIU COPE): $9,978,864 3. Public Employees Organized to Promote Legislative Equality (PEOPLE) -- the PAC of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME): $9,023,161 4. Democrat, Republican, Independent Voter Education (DRIVE) -- the PAC of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters: $8,985,481 5. National Rifle Association Political Victory Fund (NRA-PVF): $8,837,130 6. United Auto Workers' (UAW's) Voluntary Community Action Program (UAW V-CAP): $7,665,063 7. MoveOn PAC: $7,064,175 8. National Association of Realtors[R] Political Action Committee (RPAC): $6,194,451 9. Republican Issues Campaign: $6,028,807 10. American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO Committee on Political Education (COPE): $5,886,317
SOURCE: FEDERAL ELECTION COMMISSION (FEC)