In an election year, lots of attention is given to Political Action Committees (PACs), Candidate Committees, Inauguration Committees, Federal PACs, State PACs, Referendum Committees and the donations requested from them. Where does all that money go? Like most things these days, it’s complicated. But, there is some good news. There are protections in place to hold all these entities accountable.
In Virginia all these entities are governed by the Department of Elections. Candidate Committees support their candidate, Inauguration Committees are used to fund the inauguration of elected candidates, referendum committees support or oppose referendums on the ballot and not individual candidates. That brings us to Political Action Committees. The purpose of this article is not to address a Federal PAC but a Virginia PAC.
Just like candidates have to put a disclosure on their advertising that it is paid for by the candidate, PACs have to disclose the advertising is paid for by the PAC. That way, you know exactly the responsible party for the advertising. You can then do a little homework to research their motives, mission statement and statement of values. In Virginia each PAC is supposed to file a “Statement of Organization” with the Department of Elections where they list the “Purpose of the Committee.” There could literally be hundreds of PACs in support of an influential candidate, plus it is likely the candidate will have their own Candidate Committee.
So why wouldn’t you just donate to the Candidate Committee directly and forget about all this PAC stuff? Both entities have their purpose. The candidate can speak directly for themselves through the Candidate Committee and you get to hear a message approved by the candidate. PACs on the other hand put a level of insulation between the candidate and the message and can thus advertise in a manner the candidate might be reluctant to undertake. Most people would take that to mean that a PAC is only for negative advertising, but that is not necessarily the case. Many PACs, like PatCoVa PAC, try to be fact based and educational. Granted most PACs have a specialty or topics they like to focus on, so you might want to review the PACs sources of information, if they give them out.
Then, there are the “Affiliated PACs.” These may be PACs affiliated directly or indirectly with another PAC or entity. The Department of Elections shows these disclosed affiliations. For instance, PatCoVa PAC is affiliated with PatCoVa, Inc. which is a 524-exempt organization. PACs might also be affiliated with a for profit business, other PACs, or almost anything. Researching this might also give you an idea of the purpose of the PAC.
Speaking of purpose, how do you decide if you want to support a PAC and let them speak for you? It is not all about the purpose of the PAC. Some PACs have lots of overhead, salaries, research arms, and spend a lot of your money internally. Some, like us, don’t spend money paying their own people for research, or any internal work. You can go look at the expenses of a PAC and decide for yourself if the PAC is spending your money in what you consider an effective manner. Not only does a PAC have to list to whom the payment is made, but also the description. If a PAC contributes to a candidate or candidate committee for which you support, then you should consider a contribution. If the PAC has registered for or against a specific candidate, you can keep that in mind too. Like any business, efficiency and effectiveness matter. If you think the PAC is efficient and effective with your money, supports the same beliefs that you do or is bringing information or education to light, that might be a good fit for your money. If a PAC is not efficient because they support or oppose something that is not your issue, keep looking.
Are there any regulations on the amount of a contribution? The answer is yes, and no. In Virginia there is no limit on the amount any legal entity can give to a Virginia PAC. A husband, a wife, a business or any other identifiable organization can contribute as much as they want but, the cat or dog cannot. The regulations may not limit the amount, but do require reporting. Any donation of $100 or less per entity per calendar year (for a PAC) is not personally identifiable. It is reported but the Department of Elections does not make the identity known. Any donation over that amount is recorded with the Department of Elections and they will list the donor on the website.
Communication is key with a PAC. Clearly if a PAC wants to get its message out, there must be some form of advertising. That can take many forms across all the known media platforms, yes, including social media. Advertising is not the only purpose of a PAC. Education of the public, voter registration drives, and civic service are some other functions of effective PACs.
If you are interested in politics and want your voice heard, most importantly, GO VOTE. Also, consider making your voice heard in supporting a PAC that has a purpose you believe in. You, along with the millions of others, combine their funds in PACs to help educate, influence, advise, guide, inform, inspire, and stimulate discussions.
Submitted by the members of PatCoVa PAC