Chapter 3

Out Run Politics

This essay is a review of:

PAC Power: Inside the World of Political Action Committees

by Jerry J. Sabato

Hidden Conversations Behind Politics
by Hailey Kim

            Behind the scene of any government elections, since 1944, Political Action Committees have been the most controversial influence on the elections, dealing with money most of the time. The Political Action Committee (PAC) becomes “the new goldmine of American politics,” which often brings money out of reform organizations’ pockets to buy votes during the election cycle.1 Therefore, the PAC becomes to be the outlet of political participation to earn the public attention, which now brings questions behind the operation of American politics and government. In the book PAC POWER: Inside the World of Political Action Committees, the author Larry J. Sabato creates an analysis of the way the groups of PAC work and their way of choosing a specific candidate to aid, a relationship between the political parties and PACs before and after the election, and the future of PACs and their financial reform movements.

            Supported by the Congress of Industrial Organization (CIO), which raised money for Roosevelt’s campaign, the Political Action Committees (PAC) began when President Franklin D. Roosevelt was running for his reelection in 1936. Through the PACs, millions of dollars went into candidates’ hands for their campaigns despite the legal prohibition. The purpose of PACs was to separate the campaign funds from labor, business, or trade organizations that focused solely on giving the financial aids to the candidates. Although many organizations are designated as PACs, the “party committees do not qualify as PACs; in this sense all PACs are ‘nonparty’,”2 which means that all PACs are not directly connected to any political party. Among many different types of PACs, the multicandidate political action committee, formed with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to support multiple candidates unlike the other PAC groups that focus on one candidate, is addressed more in this book. The PACs had not become effective until 1972 with the President Richard Nixon’s Watergate incident. Over the next few years, the PACs had the most dramatic increase of their creations among corporate committees. Nevertheless the operation of the PACs is visible yet questionable. The “companies and groups with large staffs and ample material resources [were quick] to take advantage of the PAC option.”3 Moreover, the characteristics of PACs are that the individual organizations have a chief executive officer (CEO) to authorize the formation of the PAC, and that the vice president is the coordinator of the individual organization’s PAC program. The PAC divisions among companies occur when the employees are more involved than usual and have greater control in raising money.

            The purpose of swaying money among companies is to finance the election candidates. When the election comes along, the PACs influence on the candidate selection is impactful to the companies. Although formal voices are not used, the PACs could sometimes be enough to give a campaign contribution. During the election cycle season, the PACs share information about candidates and coordinate the PACs’ maximum effects for the election at the meetings.  The most popular source of observing the candidates is the Business Industry Political Action Committee (BIPAC), in which corporations and trade PACs are part of. For that reason, business PACs bond strongly, and the BIPAC directly contributes to the candidates. One way that BIPAC operates its contributions is thoroughly updating the recorded voice tape about the issues of candidate’s election process. The cost of running PACs is expensive and requires millions of money to operate; individual PACs tend to exceed their budgets. The corporation and union PACs finance costs are directly taken from their funds while “trade PACs are allowed to accept corporate contributions from members of companies to defray administrative expenses.”4 Even if they exceed their budget, the PACs do not have a limit amount for their spending; often the managers of PACs take hard cash out of their pockets to run the campaigns. The non-connected PACs are usually financially unaccountable and corruptive, because they do not have a parent organization. The PACs have fundraising programs that are regulated by their managers by enlarging the committees’ bank accounts. For fundraising, the PACs have several ways to obtain money such as direct mail solicitation, face-to-face solicitation, group seminars, and telephoning; the most popular method is a direct mail solicitation, because it is an economical way to request the funds. The PACs approach to the candidates and contribute on campaigns with a biased standard: foresee and choose the candidates who are likely to win. Each PAC has a different view on which political party it wants to support. The labor PACs are likely to support the Democrat incumbents, while corporate and trade PACs are likely to support a conservative party. The PACs’ gifts to their candidates are usually of a modest size, which are less than $5,000. The amount of money that the PACs give to candidates reflects their treasury funds and is considered a donation. The PACs get invitations to fundraise meetings in Washington D.C. for the opportunity to meet with legislators and to choose which campaigns that the PACs want to serve.

            Since there are two parties that the PACs can choose, they split their gifts between Democratic and Republican parties for the general election. The most vital choices of strategy for giving gifts are a matter of timing. The PACs usually contribute their funds during spring and summer contests to double their maximum contributions. However, the timing is not solely depended by the PACs’ will, but also by the pressure from the candidates. The PACs’ contributions are also used after the campaign is over due to the budget deficit caused by the campaign. Because the candidates have excessive amount of debts, the PACs do not usually hide the connection between the contribution and the activity to avoid emptying their bank accounts. One of the strategies that the PACs use to minimize their spending is lobbying. The lobbying strategy is usually used by the large corporations and trade associations, because their funds are more easily obtainable than those of the PACs.

            Once the elections are over, the PACs gauge the public opinion and create an electoral reform based on some survey results on the politics. The result of one survey shows that 62% of the survey respondents’ results take the campaigns seriously, but they do not know what the PACs are. Among the small percentage of people who knew what the PACs are, the opponents of PACs thought the PACs were virtual monopolies. Taking into account the people's opinions, though it varies, public participation increases the influence of the PACs. Most PACs are certainly participatory, having millions of contributors while having small numbers of donations. As the PACs gather their strength to develop their programs, “the political parties (until very recently) have been steadily declining and power.”5 In order for the PACs to return to where they were, the reform agenda can help the political parties. The reform proposals are created due to the difficulty of the campaign finance. The political parties strengthen the crucial positions in American system indirectly by lessening the PACs influence and providing more money and a healthier relationship with the public than with the special interest groups. In this way, the candidates can benefit from the party funds rather than the PACs’ unconstitutional gifts and their limited donations.

            The author Larry J. Sabato analyzes the works of the Political Action Committees and their ways to support the candidates by fundraising. He initially explains about the origins of the PACs, the first modern political action committee CIO-PAC6 in 1943. Following to the birth of the current Political Action Committees, Sabato deeply analyzes how the PACs work and their ways to regulate the large amount of budgets such as direct-mail solicitation and personal face-to-face solicitation that mentioned in the chapter two. Sabato has given comprehensive explanations of the political world that the public is not aware of. Sabato has done his work with the advantage of his past experience with politics.

            Ever since he was young, Sabato has been interested in the government and politics. Throughout his entire school career, he studied politics. After he graduated from the University of Virginia, he became Robert Kent Gooch Professor of Politics at his alma mater. As a political analyst, he worked with the Virginia Democratic Party politician Henry Howell for nine years. With experience with Howell in 1968 and studying politics with a passion, Sabato was able to join the government and make his campaign for governor in 1970s. Before he wrote PAC POWER: Inside the World of Political Action Committees, Sabato published The Democratic Party Primary in Virginia: Tantamount to Election No Longer in 1977 about the rise of two party politics in Southern United States. Because he had experiences with the Democratic Party, in the book PAC POWER: Inside the World of Political Action Committees, Sabato mentions the Democrats more than he does about the Republicans. Although he came from an Italian heritage, he solely focused on  American political systems and analyzed then thoroughly for the public to learn how the campaign finance works.

            The PAC could be one of the most controversial obstacles in the political world. Serious attention to the PAC was triggered during in the President Richard Nixon’s reelection year. Through Nixon’s Watergate complication, immoral actions were taken by politicians. For that reason, the focus on the campaigns grew, and the PACs began to publicize their works. Nixon’s Watergate incident caught the public’s eyes, so the nation became interested in the political world more.

            When people are asked to show their knowledge about political actions, they often say that the majority of politicians will take illegal actions with various amounts of money every day to benefit themselves. To the people who thought that the PAC was extremely bias and critical, through Sabato’s book, the people were able to rethink of the meaning behind the political actions for the campaigns.7 The idea of politics are misled to the public; therefore, the book written by Larry J. Sabato can straighten the misunderstanding parts of the public’s thoughts on the use of money in the political world.

            About the money flowing behind the public shown actions of the campaign, PAC POWER: Inside the World of Political Action Committees gives the answers to questions about supporting the candidates for their campaigns. Though there are numerous groups of PAC to finance any candidates of the government related elections, the authority of selecting was mainly in the hand of the PACs; however, each PAC also needed to deliver its best qualities in order for the candidates to solicit for the financial aid. Given the power of financing the specific candidates, the PACs fundraised cash to fill their bank accounts to support the candidates continuously. One piece of information that was not publicly known is that the candidates have extreme debts on their backs, and the PACs help their candidates to pay debts. After reading the book, a critical view on political actions of controlling money has changed to a friendly action, because the PACs sincerely help the candidates to run their campaign successfully.

            Furthermore, reaching out to the public with Sabato’s book to reveal behind stories of politicians can replace the public’s negative concept of politics to positive. Although many people address that they know how the election cycle processes, people do not fully understand the PACs’ endowment. How could people have Sabato’s book in their hands or to get the perception on roles of the PACs? People can always pursue about the PACs at college libraries or on Internet.

            The PACs are the groups that the candidates of the government elections could request their financial aids for campaigns. Though many critics perceive the PAC with a positive connotation in their minds, understanding the deep meaning of their work will bring the PAC the most beneficial influence to the candidates. If people do not have enough time to read Sabato’s book, then the summary written on this paper could help them.


1. Sabato, Larry. PAC POWER: Inside the World of Political Action Committee. Ontario, Canada: Stoddart, 1984. Xiv.

2. Sabato, Larry. 7.

3. Sabato, Larry. 29.

4. Sabato, Larry. 50.

5. Sabato, Larry. 171.

6. 6.Sabato, Larry. 5.

7. Norton. PAC POWER: Inside the World of Political Action Committees. Kirkus Review, 1984. 1.