August 13, 2007
It takes buckets of money these days to run for office just to serve your country. And at the helm of the political machine are political action committees, or PACs. These guys are akin to the local booster club for your sports teams at school–they give money to support a team’s activities and promote the sports they play. Except with political PACs there are hundreds of teams and thousands of players, and every booster club wants to buy David Beckham and have him play for the team they decide is best.
All PACs push a political cause, either for progressive campaigns like the environment, education, foster care, or, alternately, the free market concerns of oil companies, defense contract firms or the pharmaceutical industry. Some PACs spend money to convince Congress to protect forests, while other PACs lobby to have forests turned into lumber. PACs write reports and deliver them to congressional offices and make media appearances (newspapers, TV, internet) to publicize their side of an issue. Politicians even have their own PACs, such as the Congressional Black Caucus.
The more money that goes into these groups, the more they can spend supporting political candidates during elections. Electing a candidate that’s more sensitive to their issues is what helps their group and sometimes influences whether a bill passes or fails in Washington.
When you have an issue that matters to you–say education or the environment, the fastest and easiest way to get what you want, legislatively speaking, is to invest in it.
That is why EMILY’S List, a pro-choice group that works to elect progressive women to office spent over $12 million in the 2004 election. EMILY’s List champions its success from state and local offices to national federal races in electing women who work for healthcare, equality and better education.
On the flip side, there are folks like Halliburton. These guys have a PAC that gave the maximum allowable contribution to President Bush, and their executives not only gave the most too, but they also worked to raise more money for him from their friends. And when we went to war in Afghanistan and Iraq, Halliburton received millions of dollars in contracts to supposedly “help out our troops” overseas.
How do Halliburton and EMILY’s List matter to you? Let’s say you and your friends decided you wanted to make college free for everyone. How could you get Washington to pass a law to make it so? Well, first, look at all the people who accepted money from the people who stand to lose if college were free.
Big banking companies like SallieMae, Bank of America and Chase make tons of money giving college loans to students. And every election they give hundreds of thousands of dollars to many members of Congress who would be voting on your bill to make college free.