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Most PAC money flows to incumbents

Hank Hayes • Jul 13, 2008 at 12:00 AM

Phil Roe, the Republican challenging GOP incumbent U.S. Rep. David Davis in the 1st Congressional District Republican primary, has tried to claim higher political ground by pointing out that he will not take campaign contributions from special interest groups.

But the reality is those groups don’t stoke challengers’ campaign war chests anyway.

Special interest groups and their political action committees (PACs) apparently like a sure thing, according to the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP), a Washington, D.C.-based campaign finance tracking organization.

“Political action committees, whoever their sponsor and whatever their agenda, have one overriding mandate: Get the most bang for the buck,” CRP said in a position statement on PACs. “To maximize their dollars, nearly all PACs — particularly among business groups — give the overwhelming proportion of their campaign dollars to incumbents. With congressional re-election rates typically in the 90 percent range, from their point of view that’s a sound investment.”

Labor groups, said CRP, also give heavily to incumbents. Ideological groups, on the other hand, are much more likely to take a chance on political newcomers.

According to Davis’ first-quarter filing with the Federal Election Commission (FEC), his campaign received $211,573 from PACs, or about 49 percent of his total contributions. In this election cycle, Davis’ top five PAC contributions came from BAE Systems ($11,000), the International Association of Fire Fighters ($10,000) , the American Maritime Officers ($8,000), the American Bankers Association ($7,500) and the American Dental Association ($7,000).

CRP said that this year, U.S. House members running for re-election have collected about 44 percent of their money from PACs.

In contrast, CRP said challengers and open-seat candidates for House seats have collected about 15 percent of their money from PACs.

PACs also tend to favor House members in areas where they do business and with members who sit on committees that regulate their industries, CRP noted.

Company-related PACs, like the one at Kingsport-based Eastman Chemical Co., can only solicit contributions from individuals associated with the company, according to the FEC. Such PACs can contribute up to $5,000 to each of a candidate’s election campaigns, including primaries and the general election.

For more, go to www.fec.gov or www.opensecrets.org.

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