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What Are Political Action Committees? | The Nation

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What Are Political Action Committees?

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Ally Klimkoski

Youth Guide to Politics, Part One

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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.

This is pretty much like cutting off the hand that feeds you. And if the bill was coming up, chances are, ol' SallieMae would probably call in favors to all those folks who got the hookup to the political bling. Bummer!

So we have a choice--should we continue paying people to buy our representatives into supporting our values and let the two sides battle it out like Political Deathmatch, or level the playing field, zero out the scoreboard and let it be more about the individual values their constituents bring to the table.

David Sirota, writer of Hostile Takeover talks about the everyday life of folks like us and how big money's control of government influences even our daily lives. He likens it to intergalactic civil war but with sponsor ads along the Millennium Falcon and "Chewbacca--brought to you by Gillette."

"The arsenal at the lobbyist's (or PAC's) disposal brings up notions of the empire from Star Wars--instead of star destroyers, each drug company has its own well-funded PAC that, over the last decade, has blasted more than $100 million into the political system in the form of campaign contributions. That is more than $27,000 a day, seven days a week, for ten years--all to America's leading political figures."

Holy, rusted political system, Batman!

Another David--David Donnelly of the Public Campaign Action Fund says that all of our issues lead back to this big money thing. "Care about the environment? Well, we can't fix it, because oil companies give more money than the Sierra Club can."

David asked us to think about any issue that you think has nothing to do with politics. How about textbooks or what time we go to school. Those issues are actually political. Every time there is a decision to be made someone receives pressure. Either free gifts from textbook companies, high-priced dinners from wealthy parents in town, even the local mayor or state representatives.

What do the politicians have to say for themselves? Every one--from presidential candidate John Edwards to ex-Rep. Tom DeLay--says they hate to fundraise and that money has too big a role in elections. These candidates usually have quite a bit of personal wealth, which make their pronouncements seem insincere.

But don't let it kill your political puppy. Some people actually do make headway without giving mega-uber dollars to politicians. They are called voters. And while special interest can spend all the money they want--if people don't buy into it, then they're just wasting their money.

Ally Klimkoski has worked as staff in numerous campaigns from presidential campaigns to city council races. She has also volunteered for progressive candidates of all types. She has a personal blog and consults with and teaches skills to interest groups and activist organizations nationwide. Ally's concerns include global human rights and the ever-increasing wage disparity in the United States. You may contact her at Aliceschechirecat at gmail dot com. This blog post did not receive any contributions from any party for influence. The blogger did not receive funding from Gillette, D&G, and certainly not George Lucas.

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