Nobody is surprised to learn that campaigns cost money. Thus, why are people surprised or offended when a candidate takes donations from political action committees?
Political action committees (PACs) have been around since 1944 when the Congress of Industrial Organizations formed the first one to raise money to re-elect Franklin Delano Roosevelt. PACs are really just a way for many like-minded individuals to pool resources that give them a larger voice to promote a common message.
There are PACs on both sides of the aisle and in almost every corner of our economy, including sectors like agriculture, real estate, insurance, health care, dairy, restaurants, construction, banks and lawyers. Electric cooperatives have had a PAC since 1966. It is called the Action Committee for Rural Electrification (ACRE).
ACRE supports political candidates (Democrats and Republicans) who will speak for and protect the interests of electric co-ops and their member-owners. No electric cooperative writes a check to ACRE. All the money in the ACRE PAC comes from over 35,000 individual checks from employees, directors and cooperative members. On average, annual contributions to ACRE are $59 per individual donor.
Any member of Cherryland can donate to ACRE by calling our office. Annually, there is also an insert in your monthly bill that allows you to contribute along with the almost 3,000 cooperative member-owners who are already making a difference in legislative issues that affect their cooperative utility.
Incumbents tend to garner most of the PAC dollars. PAC dollars are limited, and incumbents typically have a track record that tells a PAC whether or not he/she will support their agenda. The dollars are merely a way for an organization to get a foot in the door in order to get their message heard.
In recent years, some politicians have made a big deal about not taking PAC dollars. When I hear this, I wonder if they are taking individual donations toward their campaign. How else would they pay for all the expenses involved with such an effort? Why is a check that represents a group of individuals considered differently from an individual check?
A corporate PAC is limited to a contribution of $5,000. Individuals can make a $5,400 contribution. So, when a candidate claims not to take PAC dollars, are they instead taking individual dollars? Are individual donations a way to get more dollars than a PAC can legally contribute? For me, the water gets murky when a candidate takes no PAC dollars.
I would bet that you could look into any given campaign’s list of individual donors and find multiple individuals from the same company or, more likely, the same industry. Think about that the next time you listen to the “no PAC money” speech.
By now, you are probably wondering what point I am trying to make. I am simply trying to point out that PACs are not a bad thing. In fact, I believe that one PAC check is more transparent than a thousand individual checks. When the PAC writes a check, it is clear what they stand for and what result they are seeking. When you see an individual name on a donor list, it is far harder to tell for what that person is advocating.
The democratic process is messy, but there is no better process. When you follow the money, it always leads you to individual choices. Contributing to any PAC is certainly an individual choice that has long been a part of a political process that serves us well.