Political Action Committees: Still Whipping Boy of Campaign Reformers

By Daniel B. Wood, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, March 5, 1992 | Go to article overview

Political Action Committees: Still Whipping Boy of Campaign Reformers


Daniel B. Wood, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


HATCHED with the post-Watergate revisions of campaign finance laws, modern political-action committees (PACs) continue to be the highest-profile lightning rods for public debate over US election reform.

But despite the growing relationship between the costs of winning campaigns and the amount contributed by PACs - the average winning campaign for the US House of Representatives spent $407,000 in 1990, one-half received from PACs - there is growing acknowledgment that the role of PACs is shrinking in the larger dialogue of reformist decisionmakers.

"The debate to abolish PACs is the most nonsensical debate in the modern era," says Larry Sabato, a professor of government at the University of Virginia who has written extensively about PACs. "If we abolish them, industry, labor, and trade groups will merely find other ways of using their influence."

"Cleaning up the PAC system is not enough by itself," says Susan Manes, vice president of issues for Common Cause, the Washington-based citizens interest lobby. "If we want a more representative government, we have to deal with the entire spectrum of influence money," she says. That includes campaign-spending caps, controls on "soft money" (that which skirts technical boundaries), and finding ways to give challengers even footing.

Those behind PACs say they have brought the average citizen into the political arena; they have shut out the millionaire contributors of old (by limiting individual contributions to $1,000); they have spotlighted the sources of candidate money and kept it traceable over time.

Those against say PACs have corrupted the political process with undue influence from special interests; they have heavily favored incumbents while excluding challengers; they push agendas that shortchange the disenfranchised that have no PACs to represent them.

As the elections of 1992 approach, two congressional bills have passed Senate and House votes that would kill or limit PAC spending, provide public matching funds to candidates, and subsidize political mailings. But both face further debate, virtually certain veto by President Bush, and possible Supreme Court rejection.

"Both these bills will be dead on arrival," says Sen. Mitch McConnell (R) of Kentucky, an outspoken critic of PACs. "People don't understand what PACs are, but they know they don't want taxpayer money going into campaigns." There will be no campaign finance reform in 1992, he promises.

Cries of corruption had paralleled the meteoric rise of PACs from 608 in 1974 to 4,172 in 1990, with contributions growing from $12.5 million to more than $159 million in the same period. In the last election, PAC money accounted for half the revenues received by winning House candidates and nearly one-fourth of that received by winning senators.

But for the first time, in 1990, the average cost of a House race declined from $269,000 to $262,000. And concern over PAC growth may have reached a plateau, experts say.

"It is not as fashionable for corporations to be creating PACs in the 1990s the way they were when they were hot in the 1970s and 1980s," says Josh Goldstein, project director for the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.

The greatest concern about PACs today, these same experts say, is the power they give to incumbents. Of the $110 million in PAC contributions that went to House candidates in 1990 elections, more than $89 million went to incumbents and only $7.6 million to challengers. That statistic favors Democrats because more Democrats are incumbents, and because labor unions - one major segment of the PAC community - give overwhelmingly to Democrats.

"With all the voter discontent about Congress," adds Mr. Goldstein, the 1990 election sent "over 96 percent of incumbents back to office."

But, as Mr. Sabato points out, "the same biases are apparent {toward incumbents} in contributions from individuals . …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Political Action Committees: Still Whipping Boy of Campaign Reformers
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

    Already a member? Log in now.