Political action committees--commonly called PACs--are the major organized financiers in congressional elections. During the 1992 elections the 4,792 members of the PAC community gave more than $187 million to 1,890 congressional candidates. Although PACs play an important role in American politics, journalists and scholars who write about them often describe them in the most general terms--how much money they raise, to whom they contribute, and whether the recipients of PAC money win or lose their elections. Rarely do they inform readers about why particular PACs gave contributions to the candidates they supported, or how these committees reached their contribution decisions.
The purpose of this book is to take a close-up look at a number of PACs that are representative of the PAC community. Instead of using a broad brush to paint a general picture of PACs, each of the contributors to this book focuses on one or at most two committees. Each chapter addresses three general questions: How do PACs select the candidates to whom they contribute? Where do PACs turn for the information they use when selecting candidates for support? How do they respond to the opportunities that emerge in particular elections? From this series of close studies of PAC decisionmaking, it is possible to draw broader conclusions about the role of PACs in the campaign finance system.
The 1992 elections offered a unique setting for studying PACs. Redistricting, widespread congressional retirements, and scandal created a climate of uncertainty for candidates and those who might support them. These conditions offered those PACs whose managers were interested in changing the composition of Congress the opportunity to break from the comfortable pattern of giving most of their money to incumbents. The uncertainties that resulted from these conditions had the potential to make the 1992 congressional elections more competi-