More than a third of the House's current members relied primarily on political action committees (PACs) to finance their elections last fall.
A record 156 House members reported getting at least half of their campaign contributions from PACs in the 1983-84 election cycle. Almost all of them were incumbents and about four-fifths are Democrats.
The total is a sharp increase from the 1982 election, when 94 House members said they got at least half of their campaign cash from interest groups.
Eighteen House members, all but one of them Democrats, got more than 75 percent of their 1983-84 campaign cash from PACs. All 18 won by landslides.
Many of them are committee or subcommittee chairmen, such as Rep. Peter W. Rodino Jr. (D-N.J.), chairman of the House Judiciary panel, whose PAC contributions constituted 84.6 percent of his $203,445 warchest. Rep. Augustus F. Hawkins (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, got 82.5 percent of his $73,885 in campaign receipts from PACs, and Rep. Jamie L. Whitten (D-Miss.), chairman of House Appropriations, had PACs to thank for 82.4 percent of his $139,226 reelection fund.
The highest percentage of PAC money, however, went to a second-termer from Tennessee, Rep. James Cooper (D), son of former governor Prentice Cooper. He got 9 percent of his money from PACs when he first won his seat in 1982 in a $2 million-plus contest with Cissy Baker, daughter of then-Sen. Howard H. Baker Jr. Last year, Cooper got fewer dollars from PACs, but they gave him 88.8 percent of the modest $89,431 he used in an easy reelection campaign.
At the top of the GOP list, once again, was another Tennessean, Rep. James H. Quillen, ranking Republican on the House Rules Committee. In 1982, he got 68.4 percent of his campaign receipts from PACs, as did House Minority Leader Robert H. Michel (R-Ill.). This time, Quillen was the PACs' uncontested favorite Republican, with 76.3 percent of his $296,786 campaign fund coming from them.
The findings were gleaned from a statistical study of campaign financing in the last four elections for current House members. The compilation was done by Ed Zuckerman, editor of PACs and Lobbies, a semimonthly newsletter.
The survey showed that 123 Democrats and 33 Republicans drew at least half of their money from PACs, a sharp jump from the 1981-82 election cycle, when 77 Democrats and 17 Republicans reported such receipts.
Meanwhile, the number of lawmakers who evidently try to steer clear of PAC contributions continued to drop. Only 14 (eight Democrats and six Republicans) of the 435 members of the House reported less than 10 percent of 1984 campaign contributions came from PACs. There were 18 (11 Democrats and seven Republicans) in 1982.
One reason for the predominance of Democrats on the PAC lists, Zuckerman said, is that labor union PACs solidly support Democrats, while trade and business PACs are more bipartisan in their contributions.
The statistics also show a large proportion of PAC giving in blue-collar and rural sections of the country where wealthy individual contributors may be scarce.
All four of West Virginia's Democratic House members, for instance, got most of their money for the 1984 campaign from PACs. So did more than half of the House members from Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Kentucky, North Carolina, Mississippi, Minnesota, Utah and Washington.
By contrast, less than a fourth of the House members from New York and California and less than a sixth of Texas' said PAC contributions totaled at least half their receipts.