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Stateside: Attack of the PAC Women


Stateside With Rosalea

Attack of the PAC women

By Rosalea Barker

Much of what I know about the US political system, I've learned through junk mail. This weekend the PAC women sent me some informative stuff that I thought I'd tell you about because it is a example of one of the strange political entities that exist here - the political action committee.

EMILY's List is a PAC - political action committee - that bills itself as "a progressive political force in America". Its unique power is "the impact of thousands of members contributing millions of dollars to pro-choice Democratic women candidates."

Following the same sort of strategy used by all PACs, from whichever shade of the political spectrum, EMILY's List "takes a close look at every race for House, Senate, and governor where a pro-choice Democratic woman has a viable opportunity to win. We recruit candidates, help them build viable campaigns, then make recommendations to our members."

It then passes candidate campaign profiles on to its members, who are obliged to write checks of $50 or more to at least two candidates (of their choice) in each two-year election cycle. EMILY's List claims that since 1985, when it was formed, it has grown to become "the largest political action committee in the nation and the leading source of financial and political support for women's campaigns."

To become a member of EMILY's List, you have to make a contribution, subject to campaign finance laws. Contributions from non-federal and corporate funds are now against the law. Also, the law requires PACs to use best efforts to obtain, maintain and submit the name, mailing address, occupation, and name of the employer for each individual whose contribution exceeds $200 in a calendar year.

Similar laws apply to individual candidate campaigns, which have to operate entirely separately from any PACs that might be supporting them. Conversely, the request for a membership contribution in my junk mail expressly states: "Paid for by EMILY's List and not authorized by any candidate or candidate's committee."

The cartoon fairy suggests that a good way of illustrating this relationship is to show the candidate and the PAC as spiny-backed lizards standing real close, up on their hind legs and with their backs to each other. That way they can scratch each other's backs without having to have eye contact. I think the cartoon fairy has omitted the crucial element - the electric prod the PAC is holding in its paws.

And where does the political party itself fit into all this? I mean to say, the likelihood of a pro-choice Democrat winning in the Bible Belt states is pretty slim, so candidates there are not pro-choice. Nor are Republican candidates in California usually pro-life, despite the fact that there are very powerful nationwide PACs, equivalent to EMILY's List, that are just as well-organized in their support of pro-life candidates.

Well, who the hell cares about parties anyway? It seems they're not the important factor in US politics other than as a convenient shorthand for lumping people together on a doorhanger telling the voter who to choose on election day. Once they're elected, the candidates vote for whatever suits the promises they made to their constituents, PACs, and other contributors in order to get elected.

And then cram their pet project into an omnibus bill in the House at the end of the off-year. Last year's omnibus bill was 1,800 pages long and packed with 7,000 items requiring a total appropriation of 23 billion dollars. It will be slimmed down by the Senate and the Appropriations Committees of both chambers.

The only one of the potential Democratic presidential candidates who seems to see anything wrong with these "pork barrel politics" is John Edwards.

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