PAC POWER: Inside the World of Political Action Committees by Larry J. Sabato

PAC POWER: Inside the World of Political Action Committees

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From interviews and survey-questionnaires, Sabato (Government, U. of Virginia) has compiled a good deal of standardized information on the organization and behavior of political action committees--all of which goes to show, he thinks, that PACs aren't as evil as their critics charge or as innocent as their defenders claim. Like as not; but the information, in any case, is either common knowledge or superficial description. Sabato briefly recaps the rise of PACs--the AFL/CIO precedent, the 1970s campaign finance reforms (limiting individual contributions, permitting interest groups to participate). He reviews the major types--labor, corporate, trade, and ""nonconnected""--and their standings. ""Fully eight of the ten champion fundraisers are nonconnected groups led by"" the National Conservative Political Action Committee and Jesse Helms' National Congressional Club; but to Sabato their foremost trait is diversity. He tells how they're organized, how they select candidates, raise and disburse funds. ""Incumbents are favored by a wide margin,"" except by nonconnected PACs; ""labor is overwhelmingly liberal, corporate and trade PACs are solidly conservative,"" the nonconnected/ideological PACs split; ""PACs generally prefer to invest in close, marginal races where their money can have the greatest effect."" He notes that ""independent spending"" --not in consultation or cooperation with a candidate--is overwhelmingly negative (it pays for attacks on incumbents) and much-condemned. He also takes some note of state and local PACs. Do PAC dollars buy Congressional votes? Some ""contribution patterns are suggestive""--but PACs work in conjunction with lobbies, and make a difference on only relatively few occasions. (They are ""more likely to influence the legislature when the matter at hand is specialized and narrow."") Conditions were worse before, moreover. And--a major Sabato stress: political parties are rising to the challenge. The last chapter, on proposed reforms, opts for wider disclosure and those stronger parties. Feeble even as a voice of moderation (by immediate comparison with Stephen Hess' The Government/Press Connection, above); totally outranked for penetration by Elizabeth Drew's Politics and Money; and without eloquence on the pro-side either.

Pub Date: Sept. 27th, 1984
ISBN: 0393302571
Publisher: Norton