A PAC Primer

Often it’s important to look behind the numbers. That’s the case with yesterday’s report that Political Action Committees (PACs) are raising more money than ever, and that most of the top PACs are liberal or union-oriented.

The U.S. Federal Election Commission (FEC) said yesterday that PACs raised $773.5 million during the first 18 months of the 2006 election cycle, a 23 percent increase when compared with 2004. Contributions to candidates were also 21 percent higher than at the same point in the 2004 campaign.Topping the list of PACs in terms of receipts was EMILY’s List, which specializes in raising money for Democratic women candidates, with receipts of $20.1 million. Then came the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), with $15.9 million; Moveon.org, with $14.4 million; and the American Federation of State County & Municipal Employees (AFSCME), with $9 million). (Of course not all the top PACs are liberal. The National Rifle Association ranked seventh, with $8 million.)

That labor and liberal PACs were well represented among the top ten for fundraising is nothing new-click here for the list for 2004, here for 2002, and here for 2000.

But when you look at where candidates collect their PAC money, you find that business interests, which skew their contributions to Republicans, far outspend these labor and Democratic interests. In the 2004 elections, business PACs gave out $240.3 million, four times as much as labor PACs, which distributed $60.2 million. Ideological PACs of all stripes contributed $52.2 million. (And of course this doesn’t take into account the main source of campaign cash-contributions from individuals. Individuals associated with businesses gave a sobering $1.3 billion in the 2004 elections, versus $1.3 million contributed by individuals associated with labor.)

Looking at Colorado’s hottest congressional race, CD-7 Republican candidate Rick O’Donnell has collected far more PAC money than his Democratic opponent, Ed Perlmutter, $433,317 versus $136,000, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

In CD-4, Rep. Marilyn Musgrave (R) has collected $572,822  from PACs while Democratic challenger Angela Paccione has raised $104,660.

The pattern doesn’t hold entirely although there’s always an explanation.

Republican Rep. Tom Tancredo, running for reelection in CD-6, raised less from PACs than his opponent, Bill Winter-but PACs are not an important source of funds for either one. They also aren’t for Republican Douglas Lamborn, running in CD-5 and his Democratic opponent, Jay Fawcett, who raised similar amounts from PACs.

Democrat Rep. John Salazar, running for reelection in CD-3 is trouncing his Republican opposition for money raised from PACs. So is Rep. Mark Udall, running for his seat in CD-2, and Rep. Diana Degette, running in CD-1, of course has no Republican opposition. But this is a function of the fact that these races are not close more than anything else-these candidates are far outraising their opponents from all sources of campaign cash.

The top fundraising PACs in the nation may be labor or Democratically oriented. But that doesn’t mean that Democrats can breathe easy, not when the candidates who raise the most cash most often win their races.

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About the Author

Nancy Watzman

is a Denver-based writer.

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