GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Political action committees are legal in the United States, and the candidates hoping to represent districts in the state of Michigan rely heavily on them. Most of these PACs are not organized by companies or people in Michigan, but rather, from every other state, and especially Washington, D.C..
“The sheer scale of the money that’s raised can threaten people’s confidence in our system where we expect that everyone is treated equally and their vote is counted equally,” explained Whitt Kilburn, associate professor of political science at Grand Valley State University. He thinks most people would be surprised to learn how much money candidates for Congress get from out-of-state, but says it’s a fact of American politics.
24 Hour News 8 gathered the data from the Federal Election Commission database, and found the two Republican congressional candidates, and the two Democrat congressional candidates, who have raised the most money for the 2016 election.
Fred Upton (R), representing the 6th Congressional District in Michigan, has raised approximately $2.5 million, of which $1.8 million came from Political Action Committees, or 72 percent.
Of the 628 PACs that donated to Upton’s campaign, 42 are based in Michigan, or 6.6 percent, while 284 are based in D.C., which is 45 percent.
Looking at the same information from Democrat Sander Levin, running again in the 9th District, you get a similar story. He has raised $1.2 million, of which $1 million came from PACs (83 percent).
Of the 397 PACs that donated to Levin’s campaign, 29 (7 percent) are based in Michigan, while 184 (46 percent) are based in D.C..
Tim Walberg is a Republican running in Michigan’s 7th Congressional District, and has raised $2 million, of which about $1 million is from committees.
Looking at those 418 PACs, 59 are based in Michigan (14 percent), while 128 (30 percent) are based in D.C.
Finally, Democrat Gretchen Driskell is running against Walberg in the 7th District. She has raised $2 million, with $453,000 (22 percent) coming from PACS (the least amount of these top four fundraisers, although that is more typical of a challenger).
One reason people are interested in campaign finance reform is due to the nature of the political action committee. It essentially lets corporations, which are not allowed to donate to a political candidate, the ability to do it anyway, under the umbrella of a PAC. For example, the Ford Motor Company Civic Action Fund donated a total of $10,000 to Fred Upton’s campaign for this election. A list of the people who contribute to this PAC shows that employees of the Ford Motor Company, ranging from top executives, down to department managers, have payroll deductions between $1-$420 for the Ford Motor Company Civic Action Fund.
Note: PACs can only give $5,000 to a candidate for an election, but since the primary election and general election each count separately under federal rules, a PAC can actually give a maximum of $10,000 to one candidate in a typical election year.
As for campaign finance reform, Professor Kilburn is leery of anything drastic.
“Some meaningful campaign finance reform is reasonable, I think the danger is that attempting to control spending by campaigns or interest groups is potentially harmful to first amendment freedoms,” said Kilburn.
Go to the FEC website to check the campaign contributions for a political candidate. Type in the candidate’s name, or the name of a political action committee, to see who has donated to that committee or campaign.