Democratic members of the House apparently are becoming more and more addicted to campaign contributions from political action committees.
Ninety-four members of Congress relied on PAC contributions for at least half of their campaign treasuries in the 1982 election and more than four out of five were Democrats.
Some, like Reps. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), Cardiss Collins (D-Ill.), Jerry M. Patterson (D-Calif.), Nick J. Rahall II (D-W.Va.) and John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), got more than 77 percent of their funds from PACs. All but Patterson won by landslides.
At the top of the Republican class were House Minority Leader Robert H. Michel (R-Ill.) and Rep. James H. Quillen (R-Tenn.), ranking minority member of the House Rules Committee. Quillen won reelection handily; Michel squeaked through. Each got 68.4 percent of his 1981-82 campaign receipts from PAC money-givers.
The findings can be gleaned from a new statistical compilation of campaign financing in the last three elections for members of the 98th Congress, which recently adjourned. The study was done by Ed Zuckerman, editor of PACs and Lobbies, a semimonthly newsletter.
The listings show not only an increasing reliance on PAC money among many House members, but also a steadily dwindling number of lawmakers who evidently try to steer clear of special-interest donations.
In the 1981-82 election cycle, the report showed, 77 Democrats and 17 Republicans got half or more of their receipts from political action committees. Only 18 (11 Democrats and seven Republicans) of the 435 members of Congress reported less than 10 percent in PAC money.
"The fact of the matter is that the system of financing congressional races today is dependent on PACs, and that is a disaster," said Fred Wertheimer, president of Common Cause, which has been waging war on PACs for several years.
The figures, however, suggest a "if-you-can't-beat-'em, join-'em" mood on Capitol Hill. Common Cause officials recently noted that 149 House members are cosponsoring legislation to restrict PAC contributions and initiate a new system of campaign financing. But 38 of those cosponsors (36 Democrats and two Republicans) got more than 50 percent of their money from PACs for the 1982 election.
Wertheimer says he is not discouraged. "It's a kind of a Catch-22 situation that we've seen develop," he said. "There are a number of people in Congress who we know are willing to support changing the system, but they're still out there raising PAC money because the old system is the only one we've got . . . . I think we have almost reached a consensus in this country that the PAC approach is wrong. But that is not going to get us from out and under PACs until we create another way of campaign financing."
The new list reflecting the extent of PAC financing shows that in the 1977-78 campaign, 31 of the current members of the House (27 Democrats and four Republicans) got more than half of their campaign funds from PACs.
By contrast, 28 members (14 Democrats and 14 Republicans) managed to finance their 1978 campaigns with less than 10 percent from political action committees.
The near balance disappeared the next time around. In the 1979-80 election cycle, 61 House members (49 Democrats and 12 Republicans) got more than half of their campaign cash from PACs. At the top of the list was House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.) who collected 90 percent of his receipts from PACs while coasting to easy reelection.
The number of those who got 10 percent or less dwindled to 22 members, 13 Democrats and nine Republicans.
For the 1982 elections, almost all of the 50-percenters were incumbents. Many had considerable clout in the Democratic-controlled House. (Zuckerman's list covers all members elected or reelected in 1982, including several committee chairmen, such as Reps. Clement J. Zablocki D-Wis. and Carl D. Perkins D-Ky. , who have since died.)
Speaker O'Neill and House Majority Whip Thomas S. Foley (D-Wash.) made the list. House Majority Leader James C. Wright Jr. (D-Tex.) fell just a few points short, with 45.7 percent of a $558,636 war chest coming from PACs. O'Neill got 55.5 percent of his $539,464 reelection fund from PACs and Foley had PACs to thank for 61 percent of his $466,125 in campaign receipts.
On the GOP side, House Minority Leader Michel's 1981-82 campaign receipts of $697,084 included $477,037 (68.4 percent) from PACs. House Minority Whip Trent Lott (R-Miss.) got $132,220, or 58 percent, of his $226,509 treasury from PACs.
Zuckerman suggested that one reason for the heavy proportion of Democrats atop the PAC ladder is that labor union PACs are so solidly aligned with them while trade and business PACs are more bipartisan with their contributions.
For instance, he pointed out, in the 1982 election the AFL-CIO's Committee on Political Education distributed $906,425 to congressional candidates, of which $7,500 went to Republicans. The American Medical Association's political action committee, by contrast, gave out $1,737,090, of which $1,207,659 went to Republican congressional candidates and $529,431 went to Democrats.
Area lawmakers who got more than half of their 1981-82 campaign receipts from PACs include Maryland Democratic Reps. Roy Dyson (66.3 percent), Barbara A. Mikulski (63.4 percent) and Beverly B. Byron (50.1 percent) and Virginia Democratic Rep. Dan Daniel (63 percent).