Pfizer PAC Took Out Rare Pre-election Loan in 2002

Posted March 5, 2003 at 5:54pm

The most valuable commodity for any political action committee is cold, hard cash, especially in the weeks just before an election. But what happens when a PAC runs out of money but still wants to flex political muscle?

The answer from Pfizer, the world’s biggest drug company, was to have the PAC take out a loan.

In what campaign finance experts called an extremely unusual move, Pfizer’s PAC borrowed $120,000 six weeks before the Nov. 5 election from the New York branch office of the Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi.

The unsecured loan, which was fully repaid on Jan. 15, carried an interest rate of 6.25 percent, or 2 points above the prime rate, according to a Pfizer spokesman.

The Japanese bank, according to information filed by Pfizer with the Federal Election Commission, made the loan based on its previous relationship with Pfizer and the makeup of its political action committee, which typically collects about $30,000 a month from Pfizer employees through voluntary payroll deductions.

While FEC regulations allow political and candidate committees to borrow money from banks under normal business conditions, it is extremely rare for a PAC to take out a loan, according to campaign finance experts.

“That’s not a normal practice,” said Larry Noble, former FEC general counsel and now executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, a campaign watchdog group. He pointed out that Pfizer’s corporate nature gives it a unique relationship with financial institutions that may not be available to other types of PACs.

Pfizer’s PAC handed out more than $574,000 to candidates in the 2002 election cycle, according to data compiled by PoliticalMoneyLine.com, which tracks campaign donations. More than $400,000 of that went into the coffers of Republican candidates.

Nehl Horton, a Pfizer spokesman, defended the loan as a sort of cash-flow solution.

“The reason we had a loan is that our PAC membership contributes through payroll deduction and we took the loan out because we had money coming in the fourth quarter. We know how much money we have coming in because there are set payroll deductions that the membership of the PAC has pledged. And we want to go ahead and utilize that money in the current election cycle. So we take out a loan to cover the contributions that are coming into the PAC in the latter part of the fourth quarter,” Horton said.

The PAC managers issued special appeals just before the election to Pfizer employees seeking contributions. That appeal apparently paid off, with Pfizer’s monthly PAC receipts jumping about 66 percent since October, according to FEC reports.

In fact, Pfizer has employed this technique before. The PAC borrowed $50,000 just days before the November 2000 elections and then quickly repaid the debt.

Still, the practice of taking on debt by corporate PACs is rare, and it’s too soon to speculate on whether other corporate PAC managers will copy Pfizer’s technique.

“It’s actually an interesting, creative way of solving a problem,” said Monica Worth, spokeswoman for the Business Industry Political Action Committee, which advises business on political strategy.

“The money is collected for a purpose, and that purpose is to have an influence on elections. And it doesn’t do much good after the election,” she said.

“The idea of taking out that kind of a loan is not a common practice. It is really just a cash-flow issue. They know that within a certain period of time, the funds are going to be there. But I don’t think you are going to see a lot of companies doing that.”