Feb. 11, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

PACs Collect Millions From Workers’ Paychecks

Mary Jackson supports her company’s political action committee one paycheck at a time.

The senior vice president of Cash America International Inc. allows her employer to withdraw $92 straight from her paycheck every two weeks as a contribution to the financial services company’s PAC. So far, Jackson has donated more than $2,500, and her co-workers have contributed a total of $315,000 to Cash America’s PAC through payroll deductions.

As this year’s election season draws to a close and experts begin the traditional lament of too much money in politics, the common but little-discussed practice of fueling major PACs with employee payroll deductions thrives. In recent years, professional associations have joined corporations and unions in using the mechanism to gather millions of dollars.

Jackson’s company is one of more than 800 employers that reported using some type of payroll deduction during the 2010 cycle, according to a CQ MoneyLine study of campaign finance records. Nationwide, well more than 100,000 salaried workers authorized their employers to withdraw a total of more than $70 million from their paychecks through June.

Instead of putting this money toward their 401(k)s, the employees are paying into corporate PACs. The committees then donate these funds — regardless of their employees’ political beliefs — to lawmakers and candidates to get a foot in the door on legislative issues.

“The political action committee allows our employees to participate in the political process,” Jackson said. “I give money individually as well as through my political action committee.” The use of payroll deductions as a way to fund PACs isn’t illegal, but for some it raises questions about how easily employees can decline to participate.

“There’s a lot of ways to get a not-so-subtle message to your employees. Some companies are kind of blatant about it. They can’t make you do it, but they can make a pretty heavy-handed pitch,” said Meredith McGehee, policy director at the Campaign Legal Center.

Campaign finance laws forbid anyone from coercing employees to make donations, and companies are not allowed to compensate workers for contributing to the PAC through bonuses, raises or promotions. But company executives — along with the general public — can see who made donations because each PAC must disclose all donors who contribute more than $200 per year.

“It’s very clear that if you want to be seen as someone who is supportive of the company, wants to move up in the company and be seen as a team player,” McGehee said, “then you are not only going to get the automatic deduction from your paycheck, but you are also going to contribute from your own funds.”

Jackson, who is the Cash America PAC’s treasurer, sees value in being part of the company’s political efforts.

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