What is the Function of Political Action Committees (PACs)?

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Unleashing PACs Could Save Our Democracy, If They Don’t Destroy It

By Yvette Simpson, Chief Executive Officer of Democracy For America, and Orlando Sanchez, Founder of Texas Latino Conservatives Political Action Committee

Yvette Simpson (Democracy For America) and Orlando Sanchez (Texas Latino Conservatives PAC) discuss the merits and drawbacks of PACs.

Political Action Committees: How Voters Can Take Action

By Yvette Simpson – Chief Executive Officer of Democracy For America

After the January 6, 2021 insurrection, polls have consistently shown that American voters view political polarization as an existential threat to our democracy. The gap between the two parties has only grown in the last decade with the Democratic Party becoming somewhat more liberal and the Republican Party becoming much more conservative. 

It’s tempting to lay the blame for political polarization at the feet of “special interests” and the political action committees they use to influence our politics. But that would be missing the forest for the trees. “Political action committees” or PACs, as defined by the IRS and understood by voters, is a catch-all term that can mean everything from small-donor-supported community groups to massive corporate-funded super PACs. 

PACs are not inherently dangerous—they are the latest iteration in organized advocacy that has been around since our country’s founding. It’s no surprise that the first PAC came out of the labor movement. And PACs existed throughout the 40s and 50s–the so-called golden age of political cooperation.

Dark Money is the Problem, Not PACs

The organization I lead, Democracy for America, is a PAC. We support and help elect progressive candidates to local, state, and federal office. We disclose our donors and our average contribution is only $20. Our supporters come from all 50 states and all backgrounds. They’re just regular people trying to make their voices heard on the issues most important to them.

Political polarization has accelerated in recent years after the Supreme Court gutted campaign finance law in the 5-4 “Citizens United” ruling. When a partisan majority in the Supreme Court ruled that corporate-funded political action was protected speech under the First Amendment, they opened up a can of worms and our democracy is paying the price. Now super PACs and 527 organizations can raise and spend unlimited money in our elections while never needing to disclose their wealthy and powerful donors. There is an “arms race” in political fundraising where representatives are more dependent than ever on raising huge sums of money for fear of being outspent in elections. Without grassroots PACs like DFA, progressive candidates who refuse to take corporate money would struggle to stay competitive—leaving us with a Congress that is even more beholden to anonymous wealthy donors, rather than their voters.

Grassroots Funding Keeps New American Majority Candidates Competitive

Running for public office, especially Congress, is expensive. In 2020, House and Senate candidates spent over $2.2 billion combined in the general election. This steep cost favors well-connected candidates who can self-fund or have easy access to deep-pocketed donors. Likewise, it disadvantages and discourages candidates with diverse backgrounds and lived experiences from running. These “New American Majority” candidates—young people, women, candidates of color, immigrants or the children of immigrants, and working-class candidates—all need support to be competitive. Grassroots-funded PACs can fill that gap and give early support both in terms of financial contributions and training resources about how to run an effective campaign. 

At DFA, we recruit and train progressive candidates to run for office. Many of them have never run before. They are passionate, smart, and ready to make a difference, but have been dismissed by party elites, corporate donors, and political consultants. As a PAC with a million-member supporter base, we’re able to connect our candidates to regular Americans who can donate money, volunteer to knock on doors, text or call neighbors and voters across the country, and most importantly, vote to elect candidates who better reflect the diversity of America.

This support works. The 2018 midterms saw the most diverse class of candidates ever elected to Congress. For the first time, Congress was over 60 percent women, people of color, and LGBTQ representatives—including the youngest woman ever to serve, the first Native American, and the first Muslim-American woman. None of those candidates would have won without grassroots-funded PAC support.

PACs Elevate Issues That Have Gone Ignored for Too Long 

PACs are not just useful tools for candidates in elections, they are also critical to bringing attention to overlooked issues in our country and developing policy solutions. 

Just this month, the Senate passed a climate bill with $300 billion in clean energy investments. It was the culmination of nearly four years of organizing by grassroots PACs like the Sunrise Movement, DFA, and others to push climate change to the forefront of Democratic politics. Organizers sat in Speaker Pelosi’s office in 2018, lobbied 23 out of 25 Democratic presidential candidates to endorse the Green New Deal, and relentlessly pushed Joe Biden to adopt a more ambitious climate plan when he secured the nomination.

Progressive PACs have shifted the Overton window on countless issues: expanding Social Security, universal healthcare, a $15 minimum wage, immigration reform, criminal justice reform, marijuana legalization, ending mass incarceration, and protecting reproductive rights. In every one of these issue areas, progressives face staunch opposition from powerful interests who want to maintain the status quo. But relentless organizing by PACs has elevated the voices of regular Americans and changed what’s possible in our politics.

Yvette Simpson (Democracy For America) and Orlando Sanchez (Texas Latino Conservatives PAC) discuss the merits and drawbacks of PACs.

Controlling Election Spending Limits Voter Knowledge

By Orlando Sanchez – Founder of Texas Latino Conservatives Political Action Committee

Texas Latino Conservatives (TLC) would like to express our appreciation to Divided We Fall for their efforts to share both sides of today’s issues and for asking us to participate. With today’s polarized media, many only receive one side of the issue. 

Ms. Yvette Simpson opens by referring to “polarization as an existential threat to our democracy.” This is in keeping with the mainstream media theme that if you express views at odds with their version of conventional wisdom, then you are peddling misinformation. According to polling done by TLC, what Ms. Simpson sees as polarization is the resistance to the agenda that her PAC and like-minded Democrats are attempting to impose on the American body politic. But a majority do not want their view of society to prevail. 

TLC is also a PAC training and helping elect candidates. Our survey shows that a majority do not want to inculcate young boys and girls with notions of “transgenderism” or no gender. This is seen as trying to mainstream rare and sad mental conditions and attempting to divide families by keeping this indoctrination of kids secret from their parents. 

Ms. Simpson refers to an important First Amendment decision of Citizens United as a “partisan majority.” I assume the Plessy v. Ferguson (separate but equal) decision was a partisan issue at the time, later reversed by Brown v. Board of Education. More partisanship?  Both decisions were majority votes on the Supreme Court, and in retrospect, not surprising for their times.

It’s admirable that Ms. Simpson announces she follows the law, as we do by disclosing donors. She implies she is doing it out of civility but in fact, it’s required by the FEC. She worries about “dark money groups.” I hope in her rebuttal she will give the details of Mark Zuckerberg’s carefully placed spending of nearly half a billion dollars to help Joe Biden and the Democrats win in 2020. Nothing to hide there! There are many other issues we have profound differences with Ms. Simpson, which I don’t have the space to detail. 

Some Speak With Their Dollars, and Others Speak With Their Votes

It’s true that often the candidate who spends the most money wins the election. But certainly not always. Good ideas, sincerity, and integrity are often the deciding factors. The outcome of unreasonable limits on spending is not having fully informed voters, which I believe is the goal of those attempting to control spending in elections.

The idea that candidates of diverse backgrounds must either be self-funded or they won’t have a chance is disproven by history. This year, Mayra Flores, born in Mexico and the daughter of migrant farm workers, won a special election for Texas’ 34th House district. We anticipate many more successful campaigns this election season for others from working class backgrounds who are rapidly moving to the Republican party. With a record number of minority candidates across America running as Republicans, the left’s narrative that the Democrat Party is the sole place for diversity in American politics falls flat on its face. 

Conservative PACs have convinced many to look at the free enterprise system, the benefits of low taxation, self-reliance, choice in education, and security from criminals in their homes and neighborhoods, including many living near the southern border. These policies are seen by Ms. Simpson and her fellow travelers as cruel and evil. But voters are beginning to understand that they are the path to a better life.

Dark Money Silences Democracy

By Yvette Simpson – Chief Executive Officer of Democracy For America

Mr. Sanchez brought up polling but gave no data or methodology to back up his claim that the “majority do not want [Democracy for America’s] view of society to prevail.” Perhaps that is because polling has consistently shown that progressive policies are broadly popular with the American electorate: seven in 10 Americans favor a public health insurance option; 60% support the Green New Deal; and 58% oppose Roe vs Wade being overturned. One can find similar strong support for gay marriage, protecting trans people from discrimination, police reform, and gun control. Unfortunately, truth and facts are no longer the bedrock of democratic discourse, but instead inconvenient stumbling blocks to be cast aside when they are inconsistent with a chosen narrative. 

Mr. Sanchez is right that his beliefs are out of the mainstream, but he should be glad to hear that Democrats—unlike Republicans—support teaching our children multiple viewpoints so they can make their own informed decisions. Meanwhile, dark money groups spend fortunes to spread lies and influence our elections, with zero accountability. This inconsistency, perhaps hypocrisy, has become the hallmark of Republican and conservative philosophy, followed only by exclusion, division, and white supremacy.

Democracy for America has always been staunchly against dark money groups—regardless of what side of the aisle they operate on. Dark money stacks the deck against candidates, especially candidates of color, who lack the political connections to raise large sums of money independently. It also drowns out the voice of the people, perhaps the most important ingredient in democracy; the very people elected leaders are called to serve. That’s where PACs like ours and the TLC come in—and the end result is a more diverse candidate pool that better reflects the American electorate. But while representation matters a great deal, values and truth also matter.

Democracy for America is working to build a fair and free electoral system where unlimited money is regulated, voting rights are upheld, voting access is expanded, and elected officials can’t pick their voters through gerrymandering and voter suppression.

We work towards an America where every citizen has equal access to voting and where all ideas can be put to the ballot box—unfettered by the influence of corporate-financed disinformation—to let the American people decide. But we’re not there yet, and if dark money groups have their way, we will never have true democracy in America. 

Money Doesn’t Always Equal Political Success

By Orlando Sanchez – Founder of Texas Latino Conservatives Political Action Committee

The brilliance of the founders of our country in the writing of the Constitution shines in the Bill of Rights. This document is truly why America is a great nation. Though this country wrestled with the evils of slavery until the Civil War, and then laws of discrimination lasting nearly a century beyond, these practices flew in the faces of the principles of that founding document. Americans have struggled through great difficulties to correct the errors of the past. Today there are no barriers to entry and advancement in our society; none. Ms. Simpson’s career is an example of this and important proof that hard work and good values will overcome all obstacles.

So, it is difficult to understand why, with her great talents and intellect, she attempts to ignore the First Amendment of the Constitution. Her obsession with “dark money” is an attempt to prevent citizens from freely expressing their political beliefs. Her arguments about “stacking the deck” with dark money make no sense when Soros and Zuckerberg, to name two of the left’s biggest funders, give so much money to candidates and causes she supports. 

Sadly, many PACs must keep their contributors’ names secret because too many times contributors are harassed at their jobs and their homes when their names are made public. This is clear intimidation and prevents the free expression of their ideas and should be protected by the First Amendment.

We can agree on one thing: Money doesn’t automatically equate to success in American politics. The rise of grassroots fundraising has empowered voters to elect candidates that better represent their communities and their values. We saw that in 2018 and 2020. I believe our polling will prove to be more accurate than Ms. Simpson’s. The extreme agenda that she says America supports will be rejected by the voters this November. 

Thank you, Ms. Simpson, for being a worthy adversary. And thank you, Divided We Fall, for the opportunity to show the clear contrasts of the divide in America today.

If you enjoyed this article, please make sure to like, comment, and share below. You can also read more Political Pen Pals here.

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Yvette Simpson
Chief Executive Officer, Democracy For America

Yvette is the first woman to serve as Chief Executive Officer at Democracy For America (DFA), as well as the first woman of color in executive leadership. Yvette is a lawyer, MBA, and former Cincinnati City Council President Pro Tempore. She served as the Federal Electoral Manager for Democracy for America during the second half of 2018 helping to flip control of the US House with historic victories electing the most progressive and diverse coalition of candidates in America’s history. Yvette was elected to the Cincinnati City Council in 2011 and re-elected in 2013 for a four-year term. She served as President Pro Tem from 2013–2017. Yvette is also an ABC News contributor.

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Orlando Sanchez
Founder of Texas Latino Conservatives Political Action Committee

Orlando Sanchez is the founder of Texas Latino Conservatives Political Action Committee. A naturalized citizen, he made history as the first Latino immigrant to be elected to a Houston city-wide position, serving on the Houston city council from 1995-2001 and later as treasurer of Harris County, Texas where he served until 2018. He joined the U.S. Air Force in 1976 and enlisted in the 147th Fighter Interceptor Group of the Texas Air National Guard after his tour. He attended the University of Houston and graduated cum laude with a degree in political science. He is a board member of several Houston-based organizations.


1 comment

Erik April 17, 2023 at 9:12 pm

Mr. Sanchez makes clear why there is no point in sites such as this as he spends much of his argument not addressing the subject of the discussion, but his own views on other political issues. He makes little to no argument why anonymous donations to essentially buy elections aren’t toxic to democracy, just whataboutism that Mark Zuckerberg donated to Democratic candidates.


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