Com­pany money

Richmond Times-Dispatch - - EDITORIAL PAGE -

If you want to se­cure the Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion — and who doesn’t — you’d be ad­vised to an­nounce that you will not ac­cept cam­paign con­tri­bu­tions from cor­po­ra­tions. El­iz­a­beth War­ren, Kirstin Gil­li­brand, Ka­mala Har­ris, Cory Booker, and Bernie San­ders have all “taken the pledge,” as Car­rie A. Na­tion and other tem­per­ance move­ment lu­mi­nar­ies would say. So you bet­ter do so, too.

Even if you are just run­ning for Congress, it will be­hoove you to an­nounce that you will forth­with for­swear this tainted money prof­fered by big busi­ness. If you don’t, you will look, at least to the un­in­formed, like a cor­rupt tool of the spe­cial in­ter­ests. And guess what? It’s not go­ing to cost you any­thing, any­way. In fact, you will get more money, in the long run, if you do take this road in­creas­ingly trav­eled, which re­ally might make all the dif­fer­ence, at least in Demo­cratic pri­maries.

The plain facts are these: Cor­po­rate PAC money, which is not only highly reg­u­lated but also to­tally trans­par­ent, plays a tiny role in fed­eral elec­tions. Cor­po­ra­tions are for­bid­den by law to con­trib­ute to can­di­dates. They can con­trib­ute through their po­lit­i­cal ac­tion com­mit­tee, or PAC, which raise money — and rel­a­tively small amounts of it — from mem­bers who join of their own free will and can­not be pe­nal­ized if they don’t.

The amounts cor­po­rate PACs can give to can­di­dates is lim­ited to $5,000 to any given can­di­date in any given elec­tion cy­cle, and in­di­vid­ual em­ploy­ees can’t give more than that amount to their PAC. The CEO can’t give more than the re­cep­tion­ist, and these lim­its were set in 1974 and haven’t been in­creased since.

It can be con­fus­ing — and the politi­cians who are tak­ing the pledge seem to like it this way — but cor­po­rate PACs are small fry in the cam­paign fi­nance game. There are other ways to give and to re­ceive, and peo­ple who want to in­flu­ence elec­tions make good use of them. They can give to so-called su­per PACs, for in­stance, and there are no lim­its there.

A rich cou­ple can con­trib­ute more of their money to a cam­paign than a cor­po­rate PAC to which hun­dreds of em­ploy­ees be­long. And a CEO who wants to give more can do so, through other chan­nels. That’s why Hil­lary Clin­ton spent so much of her last run at the White House in meet-and-greets with rich peo­ple.

Chal­lengers don’t get cor­po­rate PAC money any­way, for the most part. Cor­po­rate PACs in­vest in in­cum­bents, which is why, over her long ca­reer in Washington, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — who says she wants to clean up the sys­tem — has re­ceived 40 per­cent of her cam­paign funds from PACs of one kind or an­other.

Per­cent­ages like that are go­ing down fast, be­cause can­di­dates — es­pe­cially chal­lengers — have found other ways to raise money and lots of it, with­out ap­pear­ing be­holden to the spe­cial in­ter­ests.

Beto O’Rourke raised more than $23 mil­lion in his bid to un­seat Sen. Ted Cruz, with­out tak­ing any cor­po­rate PAC money. And our own Rep. Abi­gail Span­berger seems not to have sac­ri­ficed by es­chew­ing cor­po­rate money. “The amount of money of peo­ple who have do­nated to my cam­paign who have never given in the past,” she said last year, “has more than made up for money from cor­po­rate PACs.”

Sen. Marco Ru­bio, who got more PAC money than any other can­di­date in the 2016 Repub­li­can pri­maries, brought in just 2 per­cent of his cam­paign funds from all PACs com­bined — not just cor­po­rate PACs.

So what’s to lose? Take the pledge, strike a pose of in­cor­rupt­ible pro­bity — and rake in the cash.

Cor­po­rate PAC money gen­er­ally plays a tiny role in fed­eral elec­tions.

DWAYNE CAR­PEN­TER/TIMES-DIS­PATCH

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