Risky Business? Pac Decisionmaking in Congressional Elections

By Robert Biersack; Paul S. Herrnson et al. | Go to book overview
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The financial demands of a presidential campaign, two expensive Senate races in California, and many marginal House races meant that gifts to friendly incumbents who faced only token opposition were reduced. There was less money to invest in nonincumbent candidates who were running well ahead or well behind their opponents. Many gifts were reduced in magnitude.

Overall, COPE gifts to House and Senate candidates totaled just over $800,000, a substantial drop from the million dollars given in 1988. COPE contributed much less money to House candidates in 1992 than in the most recent election cycles, but increased its aggregate gifts to Senate challengers and especially open-seat candidates.

Conclusions: COPE in the Information Flow

In an uncertain election cycle, COPE benefited from a strong grassroots network of labor activists and from local and state union organizations in gathering information. This information was processed by committees composed of the heads of various labor PACs, and lists of important close races were developed and distributed. These lists influenced but did not determine the contribution strategies of member unions. They probably influenced the decisions of other PACs as well, for candidates on the COPE marginal list would make this information known to all other sympathetic PACs. This would signal that COPE's political operatives believed that the race was competitive, and this information would be helpful to other PACs with less widespread organizations to gather political information.

COPE was part of a larger network of information as well. COPE representatives and PAC directors from COPE member unions attended briefings by party organizations and informally shared information with party members. They consulted with state party chairs on the best ways to spend soft money. They attended briefings by other PACs to which they had contributed, and shared information at those meetings as well. They welcomed targeting information from NCEC, and that information helped state and local union activists to better use their resources in voter mobilization efforts.

Labor leaders were generally pleased with the outcome of the 1992 elections. For the first time in twelve years a Democrat was headed for the White House, Democrats held their own in the Senate although they had more seats to defend, and losses in the House were far smaller than had been feared a year before. This political lineup did not guarantee that labor's agenda would be fully enacted: indeed, the Clinton budget cuts and health care plan were certain to require modification before they could win labor endorsement. Yet labor leaders again had access to the White House, and Democrats controlled the major institutions that make national policy. This suggested the possibility that the 1990s would be a better decade for labor unions and their members.


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