Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) shocked the audience at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) this week when he announced that he will no longer be accepting campaign donations from political action committees (PACs).
“I will never again accept a donation from a federal political action committee — not one red cent,” Gaetz, a strong ally of President Donald Trump, said Thursday. “The American people are my one special interest.”
— CPAC 2020 (Text CPAC to 56479) (@CPAC) February 27, 2020
PACs are a major source of campaign funding for political campaigns. The Center for Responsive Politics says that PACs account for 23% of all political campaign funds and about a third of cash raised in the House, so Gaetz has just cut himself off from a big chunk of funding for his next campaign in 2020.
Beholden to PACs?
There are limits to PAC campaign contributions: $5,000 per election, primary and general. But the idea behind why PACs are bad is that candidates may be expected to “pay back” contributions later by introducing or supporting certain legislation for which a PAC advocates.
“Honest capitalism is under attack. Not just from Bernie Sanders, antifa and the radical left — but by special interests and political action committees in the swamp of Washington D.C.,” Gaetz said.
It has mainly been Democrats decrying PAC contributions and money from “special interests” in previous campaigns, but Gaetz has a point: much of politics has turned into making sure donors are pleased enough to donate again. Particularly in the House where terms are only two years, it can seem like one long campaign.
According to analysis from progressive magazine Mother Jones about Democrat presidential candidates pledging to reject PAC money, however, Gaetz may be going even further than they did. Only corporate PACs were mentioned in Democrats’ speeches as being verboten, and Mother Jones points out that most of those donate to incumbents from both parties equally without much hope of actual payback.
Too much influence
Gaetz clearly believes PACs exert too much influence over political campaigns. He described a system that awards chairmanships and committee assignments to the member that “proves his merit laundering money between special interest[s] and our fake leadership.”
So repugnant is PAC money to Gaetz that he compared it to prostitution: “I’ve never turned tricks for Washington PACs, but as of today, I’m done picking up their money in the nightstand.”
That’s pretty strong language for something that the vast majority of elected officials just accept as part of the game.
It’s one thing to say you’re not beholden to any PAC, but it’s another to refuse their money when it may damage your ability to be re-elected in a crucial election. To voters, it shows integrity, but will swampy Washington reward such a plan?