By Micaela A. Isler & Jim Gerlach
January 15, 2020 at 5:00 am ET
A growing trend among candidates for Congress is concerning and puzzling. In the 2018 Congressional election cycle, seven Senate and 46 U.S. House members took a “no corporate PAC check” pledge, meaning they did not accept contributions from employee-funded business political action committees. They did so under the — very false — premise that accepting PAC money amounted to an acceptance of corporate money.
The trend now has infected Congress. Reps. Max Rose (D-N.Y.) and Josh Harder (D-Calif.) have introduced a bill that would effectively keep employee-funded business PACs from donating to candidates altogether.
This legislation, and the larger trend, is about politics.
Because business PAC funding is generated through small dollar donations from individual employees, and does not come from a company’s treasury (because that would be illegal), the reality is that this legislation will hurt American workers by shutting them out of the political process.
Business PACs are employee PACs. Individual workers make voluntary contributions because they want to support candidates who will fight for the issues they believe are essential for the success of their company, industry and their own job.
These voices are legitimate. Like labor union PACs, business PACs represent employees — everyday Americans.
These employees clearly aren’t trying to “buy a legislator” since, according to the Public Affairs Council, the average amount contributed annually by an employee is only $316 — or just $26 a month. And the employee PAC overall can only contribute $5,000 per election to a candidate — an exceedingly small amount, and one that actually is less than the amount ($5,600) a married couple can give directly to a candidate. (Think about that: one family can give more than an entire organization made up of thousands of employees.)
Furthermore, these employees participate in what is truly an open and transparent process. Individuals contributing more than $200 a year must be regularly reported to the Federal Election Commission (FEC), and every similar expenditure the PAC makes must be fully disclosed to the FEC and general public.
Therefore, when candidates take a pledge not to accept employee-funded business PAC dollars, they are in reality refusing to accept support from hard-working men and women — many of whom may live and work in the very district or state the candidate is trying to represent.
A candidate would not refuse a labor PAC donation from employees. Why then refuse donations from an employee-funded business PAC? Often these employees live in the same town, or neighborhood as their labor union brethren. Sometimes they even work in the same building. Why take from one household or person, and not the other?
The double standard doesn’t end there. Candidates who have refused employee-funded business PAC dollars have taken contributions from legislative leaders’ PACs, which are funded by employee-funded business PAC money. These candidates also continue to take donations from their party’s campaign or national committees, which are funded in part with employee-funded business PAC dollars.
Americans are fed up with Washington, and preventing hardworking employees — who themselves represent all parties and all walks of life — from collectively making their voices heard in the political process will only make things worse.
Let’s face it: anti-business groups like End Citizens United (a PAC) have badgered candidates for years to not accept corporate PAC money. Yet they don’t decry accepting support from other working men and women (unions) or other political organizations. Regardless of their motivation, these candidates should follow the advice of the U.S. Supreme Court, which has explained why it is important that private-sector employees be allowed to band together to speak. In the famous case of Buckley v. Valeo, the Court opined:
“In a republic where the people are sovereign, the ability of the citizenry to make informed choices among candidates for office is essential, for the identities of those who are elected will inevitably shape the course that we will follow as a nation…the First and Fourteenth Amendments guarantee freedom to associate with others for common advancement of political beliefs and ideas.”
Employees contributing to business PACs simply wish to associate and combine their resources to advance their dearly held political beliefs. While the pledge candidates may not share these views and legislative priorities, they should not seek to silence those who hold them.
Micaela A. Isler is the executive director of National Association of Business Political Action Committees (NABPAC). Jim Gerlach is president & CEO of Business Industry Political Action Committee (BIPAC) and a former member of Congress, representing Pennsylvania’s 6th congressional district.
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