You may have been pleased to hear more and more Democratic candidates, including the leading presidential candidates, promise to refuse corporate PAC money. You may have thought that it is a small but real sign of progress. But did you ever think about who this might be hurting—the (possibly) hardworking people who run those corporate PACs, who are now unable to give their money to Democrats? According to a report this morning in Roll Call, this situation is putting corporate PACs in a “partisan bind.”
The paper reported on a Florida gathering of what it describes as “hundreds of PAC people”—which brings me great joy because it reminds me of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode “Pod People”—where they sought “clues about the future of their beleaguered enterprises.” One session was reportedly titled “Under Siege,” a sign that these people surely have a proportional sense of how bad their lives are.
A major source of concern is that the number of Democrats swearing off their money limits these PACs’ ability to appear “bipartisan.” A member of the organization that ran the conference told Roll Call some PACs “literally have it written into their bylaws that they will achieve a specific split,” and then also this obvious bullshit.
“PACs work very hard to be very balanced and to have a voice on both sides of the aisle,” Kristin Brackemyre, senior manager for the Public Affairs Council, told the publication. “Most PACs pride themselves on being bipartisan and supporting candidates who are understanding of their issues, so they can engage in a policy conversation.”
The money-in-politics tracker OpenSecrets shows the vast majority of top recipients of corporate PAC money are Republicans, including in both 2018 and 2016, before many Democratic candidates began swearing off corporate PAC money. In 2016, only one of the top 20 corporate PACs gave at least 50 percent of their money to Democrats.
According to Roll Call, the PACs are “mobilizing their lobbyists in an attempt to stem the flow of more lawmakers” who are rejecting corporate PAC money, “armed with talking points explaining what corporate PACs really are.” You see, they aren’t funded by the corporations themselves, but merely their highest-paid staff and their families, making it simply impossible for them to influence the candidate.
It is true that corporate PACs are probably not the worst sources of influence on candidates: They can only donate $5,000 per election, though in less expensive races in smaller media markets, $5,000 is nothing to sniff at. Super PACs, dark money organizations, and donations to parties all allow corporations to spend much more on influence if they want to, and many do.
But there’s a reason corporate PACs exist in the first place. There’s a reason corporations put so much effort into maintaining them. And there’s a reason they give to candidates, even if it’s in a bipartisan fashion. It may not be to specifically get one politician elected, but getting $5,000 from AT&T’s PAC means they’re far more likely to take AT&T’s call when they want to complain about net neutrality or having to pay taxes. The fact that it is routinized and widespread does not make it not corrupt; the fact that these PACs can no longer be bipartisan is not a real concern for anyone who does not work for a PAC.
Ending corporate PAC donations won’t fix money in politics, but it would end what is clearly a rotten and anti-democratic practice. And it is very, very funny that the people who run them are so sad about it. Cry more about it, losers.