Once you've performed in the debate, fill out the survey below to help me grade your classmates. If the form doesn't work, click the link to take it instead.
The effect of PAC campaign contributions on congressional votes has become a perennial issue in American politics. Critics of PACs are convinced that they distort the democratic process and corrupt our political system in favor of those who can raise the most money. Many politicians freely admit—once they are out of office—that it is a myth to think that the PACs don’t want something in return. They may only want to be remembered on one or two crucial votes or with an occasional intervention with government agencies, but multiply this by the thousands of special interests that are organized today and the worst fears of the hyperpluralists could be realized—a government that constantly yields to every special interest.
Common Cause (www.commoncause.org) has as one of its primary missions exposing what it sees as the evils of the PAC system. It argues that the influence of corporate PACs on Capitol Hill has led to “corporate welfare” and costs taxpayers billions of dollars. For example, Common Cause has attributed the failure of Congress to further regulate tobacco and cigarette advertising to the millions o PAC contributions from tobacco companies. Similarly, they have argued that PAC contributions from the biggest mortgage brokers kept Congress from scrutinizing questionable lending practices that played such a crucial role in bringing on the recession of 2008–2009. More recently, they have accused Verizon Communications of using PAC contributions to influence key members of Congress who are involved in regulating the Internet. Although these contributions were disclosed, they argue that their influence is exercised behind the scenes at committee meetings on technical matters that are hard for journalists to scrutinize.
However, others argue that connection is not causation. They believe that most members of Congress are not affected by PAC contributions, which come largely from groups they already agree with anyway. For instance, labor PACs will not waste their money trying to influence members of Congress who have consistently opposed raising the minimum wage. Defenders of the PAC system also point out that the PAC system further increases participation in the political process. As opposed to individual donations, PACs—which represent groups of people—allow better representation of occupational groups. The PAC system allows people with common professional interests, such as farmers, lawyers, dentists, and college professors, to express their support of candidates jointly through political contributions. Similarly, corporation PACs can represent the interests o stockholders and employees.
If James Madison was right in thinking that the key to controlling the power of interest groups is to expand their sphere of participation, then PACs certainly do this, according to their defenders. Beyond this, the money for today’s expensive media campaigns has to come from somewhere. Those who wish to maintain the PAC system typically argue that the alternative of the government providing campaign funds is impractical given that only about 7 percent of taxpayers participate in the $3 voluntary income tax check-off system for financing federal campaigns.
Questions to consider:
We know that SuperPACs are a totally different and crazy part of this process, but this post is all about regular old PACs, which still have an effect on the process. If you finish answering the question below an want to comment on SuperPACs, feel free to do so.
a. Would you consider eliminating PACs? Would you prefer just to leave things as they are? Or, as a middle course, would you favor reducing the amount of money ($5,000 in the primary and another $5,000 in the general election) that PACs can donate directly to candidates?
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