Two More Senators Ditch Corporate PACs

Two Senate Democrats joined a group of congressional incumbents running for reelection who have sworn off contributions from corporate political action committees (PACs).

Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) announced on Twitter this month that they would join at least 10 other members of Congress in rejecting donations from corporate PACs in their upcoming reelection campaigns.

“Because of the corrosive effects of corporate money I have decided from this point on I will not be accepting corporate PAC checks into my campaign,” Gillibrand said in a video earlier this month.

Booker announced a similar pledge in a tweet this month, saying “our campaign finance system is broken.”

A corporate PAC is a committee funded primarily by employee and individual contributions — not from corporate treasuries — and have a $5,000 per-candidate, per-cycle donation limit. Neither candidate has said they plan to reject individual donations from employees of corporations.

End Citizens United, a nonprofit that opposes corporate money in politics, hailed the move as a victory.

“Right now, we’re seeing a wave of candidates rejecting corporate PAC money and taking a stand against the rigged system,” Anne Feldman, a spokeswoman for ECU, said in an email. “By making this commitment, Senator Gillibrand, Booker and others are showing they will fight for people and not corporate interests.”

Corporate PAC donations make up just a small percentage of campaign funding for incumbents, such as Gillibrand and Booker, who have accepted millions in PAC donations from banks, pharmaceutical companies, and international and corporate interests, FEC data shows.

Since running for Congress, Gillibrand has accepted $4.9 million from business PACs — 9.7 percent of her total fundraising. Her top PAC donors include Goldman Sachs, UBS AG and Morgan Stanley.

Booker, with one run for Senate under his belt, has accepted $1.8 million from business PACs — 8 percent of his total fundraising. His top PAC donors include JP Morgan Chase, Verizon, and law firms Connell Foley and DLA Piper.

Gillibrand’s highest PAC contributor and Booker’s second highest was the pharmaceutical company Pfizer.

Neither candidate has said they plan to return corporate contributions or reject the support of super PACs, which can raise and spend an unlimited amount on behalf of a candidate. The announcements also didn’t acknowledge the corporate dollars donated to party and leadership PACs that so often funnel into personal campaign accounts.

The senators follow a pack of other congressional candidates — mostly Democrats — who have made similar no-corporate PAC pledges. Around 70 candidates have sworn off those contributions thus far, Feldman said.

Other incumbent senators taking the pledge include Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.).

House members include Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas), John Sarbanes (D-Md.), Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), Jared Polis (D-Colo.), and Francis Rooney (R-Fla.), according to ECU.

The no-corporate PAC pledges appear to mean different things to different candidates. For instance, according to details reported by Roll Call, Gillibrand’s ban includes for-profit companies, trade associations and law firms, but excludes money from labor unions and ideological groups. Meanwhile, some of these candidates have accepted contributions this cycle from certain trade associations and corporations.

Last year, fundraising by PACs reached an all-time high of $2.2 billion, a number that, 20 years earlier, was $450.9 million. Already this cycle PACs have raised $1.2 billion, according to Center for Responsive Politics data.

In her statement, Gillibrand cited the 2010 Supreme Court decision, Citizens United v. FEC, which allowed super PACs to spend unlimited sums of money in support of — or in opposition to — candidates as long they spend independently of the campaign. But the court decision has little to do with corporate PACs. Other cases, such as the 2014 McCutcheon v. FEC decision, which removed caps on the amount an individual can donate to PACs, have played a bigger role in their growth and influence.

Some candidates who have taken the pledge have gathered a following. Gillibrand, Booker, Warren and Sanders have all been eyeballed as candidates for the 2020 presidential race.

In addition, Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) are all facing challengers who have refused corporate PAC money.

Last quarter, Cruz was outraised by his no-PAC Democratic challenger O’Rourke. While Cruz still leads the funding race by nearly $10 million, O’Rourke saw a jump in a recent telephone poll after pollsters noted that he was not accepting PAC contributions.

“I think the real way to change money in politics is to win this election without PACs and just ensure that it’s the people I want to represent who are primarily funding this,” O’Rourke said in a January interview.