WHAT DO Poppin Fresh Pies, the Nation Turkey Association, the National Broiler Council and the National Screw Machine Products Association have in common? Each is among the nearly 1,800 corporations and trade associations with its own Political Action Committee (PAC). In our increasingly over-organized world, with its multinational subsidiaries and cartels of franchises, the PAC is a model of simplicity. It collects money from its members or employees and then contributes money, in the name of the group, to deserving candidates for federal office.
For the past six years, corporate political action committees have been growing like weeds. At the end of 1974, there were just 89 corporate PACs. gAt the end of 1976, there were 433. By the end of last year, there were, according to records at the Federal Election Commission, 954.
As of June 30, 1980, according to a National Journal study, the corporate PACs had in only 18 months raised over $23 million, $5.7 million more than all corporate PACs raised the entire election year of 1978. As of the same date, the trade and industry association PACs had raised, during the same period, some $25 million. But even more important than money collected is, as any campaign manager can attest, the money is still in the bank. At the end of June, with better than four months until Election Day, the coporate PACs had $12.5 million on hand and the trade association PACs, $11 million. Organized labor, through its political action committees, reported, as of that date, cash on hand of $10 million.
With these kinds of totals around, no one should be completely surprised that, in 1978, some 15 Senate candidataes (including both parties' nominees in both Michigan and Colorado) received from PACs of all kinds more than $200,000 each. In 1978, $1 out of every $3 received by incumbent House members came from PAC sources.
But what about the public interest? Most PACs and almost all of the newer ones, have very specific and very detailed legislative agendas. They generally do not concern themselves with a member's votes, in or out of committee, on widows and orphans or even on national defense. Their contributions do draw recipients toward narrow legislative concerns. The always difficult process of legislative and political accommodation, vital to a large and disparate body like the House, is made even stickier by the proliferation of sing-issue PACs.
In the House, Reps. David Obey (D-Wis.) and Tom Railsback (R-Ill.) last year offered a bill to reduce from $10,000 to $6,000 the maximum contribution allowable to a House candidate by any one PAC and to impose for the first time a limit -- $70,000 -- on the amount a candidate could take from all PACs. Implicit was the conviction that legislative coalition-building and single-issue. PACs were at odds. The House passed the Obey-Railsback bill on Oct. 17 by a vote of 217-198.
While the proposed law has no application to Senate races, the bill is stalled there, held hostage to the threat of a filibuster by Republican senators fearful perhaps of the precedent it might establish for them. The will of the House majority, on an important House matter, is now being frustrated by the willfulness of a Senate minority.