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• Unlike every other hard-money source in the campaign finance system, traditional PACs were not indexed for inflation by McCain-Feingold and therefore increasingly will be unable to help candidates and parties keep pace with the increasing costs of campaigns. The purchasing power of the $5,000-per-election limit established for PACs in 1974 has been eroded 80 percent by inflation in the past 38 years. In that time, the average cost of a House campaign has risen from $53,000 to $1.1 million, and the average Congressional district has grown by more than 215,000 people.
• A wealthy couple may now contribute $5,000 per election to a candidate for Congress — the same amount as a PAC with thousands of donors.
• The PACs of trade associations with corporate members are treated as second-class citizens in the campaign finance system. This is due to an arcane provision requiring, in writing, prior approval before a voluntary contribution is solicited from even a single stockholder or executive of a member corporation.
• In contrast to super PACs, traditional PACs largely prefer making direct contributions to candidates and political parties rather than to outside organizations such as super PACs that have little or no accountability.
We have come far since the brown paper bags of cash that funded campaigns from the Civil War to Watergate. PACs are one reform that has stood the test of time. Traditional PACs bring together millions of Americans who want their small, voluntary contributions to make a difference in electing to public office those individuals who espouse their shared beliefs.
It’s time to have a thoughtful conversation about the many different types of legal mechanisms that fund modern campaigns and stop demagoguing everyone who chooses to exercise their right to freely participate in our campaign finance system.
Geoff Ziebart is executive director of the National Association of Business Political Action Committees.