by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
The 2020 Democratic presidential candidates condemn big money in politics and earn applause at campaign events when they say they will refuse corporate PAC money, but their pledges leave plenty of room for big PAC spending in the race.
Nearly all the candidates boast that they refuse contributions to their campaigns from corporate PACs. A banner on Sen. Kamala Harris’ website says that she “refuses to accept donations from corporate PACs.” Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s site says: “We aren’t taking any corporate PAC or federal lobbyist money. This is a campaign powered by you.”
Pledges against corporate PAC donations, however, leave room for contributions from labor union PACs, which overwhelmingly support Democrats over Republicans, and other ideological interest PACs like that of Planned Parenthood.
Refusal of corporate PAC money “is, shall we say, a feel-good pledge that no one is going to have worry about the consequences of adhering to,” Walter Shapiro, a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice and columnist at Roll Call, told the Washington Examiner.
A few candidates have sworn off all PAC donations. Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s website says that she “doesn’t accept contributions from PACs of any kind” and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s reads: “All People. No PACs.”
But even refusing any type of PAC donations does not harm presidential candidate fundraising because traditional PACs are limited in the amount of money they can contribute to campaigns. Less than a third of a percent of contributions to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign were from PACs of any kind, according to the Center of Responsive Politics’ OpenSecrets.com.