Political Action Committees at the federal level are the outgrowth of an election tool used by business since the time George Washington and friends ran for the House of Burgesses in colonial Virginia. Statutes enacted early in the 20th Century prohibited direct contributions to federal candidates with similar bans on organized labor in the 1940’s. BIPAC was formed in 1963, and during that decade several professional societies created vehicles for political giving that predate the major campaign finance legislation of our time. The current regulations are based on the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971. Amendments following the post-Watergate reforms in 1974, 1976 and 1980 made PACs the avenue for small donors sharing a common interest to pool resources in a transparent, regulated and reported system. Designed to balance all economic and social interests, the law lays out how a PAC can organize, solicit and and contribute dollars. The Federal Election Commission, created by the FECA, the early Sun Oil decision that laid out guidelines for solicitation, and the Supreme Court’s 1976 Buckley vs. Valeo decision provide the framework for PAC governance.
The once revolutionary concept of a PAC has been a common vehicle for a generation of candidates who would not have become elected officials without this support. PACs survived in war and peace, emerged healthy after terrorism assaulted the very roots of our system. PACs have thrived in the face of changes in control of Congress and the White House, even endured two impeachment attempts. They’ve continued during corporate downsizing, more than one recession, corporate mergers, shifts in the workforce, hiring and firing of CEOs, the whims of various management theories and global competition.
Today, over 6,000 entities are registered with the Federal Election Commission and subsequent rules issued by the Federal Election Commission, the supervisory and regulatory body with whom all PACs file reports on receipts and expenditures. PACs were untouched in the campaign finance reform legislation that eliminated soft money, as well as in the most recent Supreme Court decision of Citizens United vs. the FEC. PACs ceased to be “the bad guys” at least a decade ago. In effect, the reformers validated the legitimacy of the PAC in the political arena. The emergence of PACs as the most universally accepted, clearly regulated, and best understood of all campaign finance tools guarantees their future.
Impact on Campaign Funding
A fully funded candidate is the key to every successful election strategy. PAC support helps elect candidates who understand the importance of a growing economy and how rising costs stifle markets.
Quick Points on PACs and Business
- PACs are responsible players in a system of fully reported and regulated contributions. All reports, filed electronically and on a mandated schedule, are available for public inspection in person or on the internet on a permanent basis.
- PAC dollars come from individual donors, not corporate or union or other treasuries. The money comes from real people in sums that are modest.
- Receipts and contributions are limited. No donor may contribute more than $5,000 a year to a PAC and no PAC may give more than $5,000 per candidate per election.
- Because the PAC serves the goals of the parent organization, it is the logical vehicle for those whose motivation is issue-driven that recognizes allies in both political parties, rejecting the rhetoric personality based campaigns we see around us every cycle.
- Millions of Americans give to PACs which serve as advocates for small donors, especially those of a new generation, who are not dependent upon a political party or social cause to motivate them.
- The peer relationship between donor and asker is unique to the business PAC. The typical PAC has a board of decision makers composed of coworkers who share similar concerns, income levels, and lifestyles. No candidate or political party can come close to duplicating the personal trust that exists in the corporate or association setting.
- An informed PAC donor is an informed voter. The workplace has become the new political precinct where information is retrieved and evaluated. Motivated donors who want to be more involved can find an outlet for that participation, bypassing the need to penetrate a candidate’s inner circle or political party structure.