In Virginia, they range from the 10th District Republican Congressional Committee to the Wood Preservers Society of America. In the District, they include Air Conditioning Contractors of America and the Beet Sugar Association.
What all these organizations have in common is that they have formed Political Action Committees, a controversial way for members of corporations, labor groups and other special interests to funnel campaign contributions to the candidates who promise to do the most for them.
The Washington area alone contains 728 PACs, more than one third of the 1,800 PAC's nationwide that are registered with the Federal Election Commission. Of those, 469 are located in the District, mainly because many trade associations and other groups have their headquarters here.
The committees, gearing up for the 1980 elections are mostly a phenomenon of the 1970s due to federal legislation in 1971, 1974 and 1976 restricting contributions and expenditures of candidates and organizations in federal elections. PACs may be formed by labor unions, corporations, trade associations or any interest group, but they are prohibited from making political contributions from corporate funds. It is merely a device by which mainly top level employes, stock holders and their families or association members can contribute to candidates, usually through a PAC pool.
A committee of those same contributors generally decides which candidates will get the PAC's funds.
The influence of the PACs has grown in the past few years and even Congressmen are taking notice of their power. In the last congressional election, one of every three dollars given to incumbent House members came from corporate, professional, trade association, labor or ideological PACs.
A spokesman for the PAC at Fairchild Industries Inc., a major defense contractor that is moving into the satellite communications market, said that the candidates selected for contributions will "advocate strong defense, strong communications and a good economy."
"Those favoring business and gas business will get funds" from the Washington Gas Light PAC, according to a WGL PAC spokesman. Forming a PAC "is looking out for business in general. There's less and less opportunity for business to be heard."
WGL has four PACs, one each in the District, Maryland and Virginia and another just for federal elections, the spokesman said. Disbursements in the last congressional election from the WGL PACs totalled $3,600, the spokesman said. So far this year, about $5,000 was raised and $2,700 was contributed in Virginia elections.
The Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Co. also has a PAC for each jurisdiction and a federal PAC.
By forming a PAC, a company's employes can donate as much as $1,000 per candidate per election or $5,000 under certain circumstances. Corporate PACs contributed about 25 percent of monies donated by the committees in the 1978 elections. According to the Federal Election Commission, in the 1977 and 1978 campaigns, PACs raised $80.5 million and spent $77.8 million. Of that, $35.1 million went to candidates in federal elections.
Of the $35.1 million, $9.8 million was donated by corporate PACs, $10.3 million by labor unions, $115 million by trade associations, health and membership organizations and $2.5 million by organizations not connected to another group. Cooperatives, such as the citrus growers, donated $900,000 and corporations without stock gave $100,000 to federal candidates, the FEC said.
According to recent FEC figures, 149 PACs are located in Virginia, including seven affiliated with corporations and 24 associated with trade assocations. In Maryland there are 11. PACs of which two are affiliated with corporations and 12 are linked with trade associations. In the District, trade associations make up about half of the 469 PACs.
Local companies with PACs include: The BDM corp., McCormick & Co. Inc., Southern Railway, Marriott, Montgomery Ward and Baltimore Gas & Light.
A spokesman for the Marriott said he didn't know how much the company's new PAC would donate next year, but he said they will be watching those who vote in favor of "free enterprise" legislation.
"A lot of congressmen by their votes say they don't care or they don't understand the free enterprise system," the spokesman said. "Others have been behind the free enterprise system or are beginning to see the light, particularly in the last few months."