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Why Give Money to PACs?: Because

Earlier this week, we had an item where we pointed out that having lots of small donors giving money to politicians is not as positive a thing as it may seem. The folks who donate money tend to be on the extreme ends of the political spectrum, which means that you end up with more extreme politicians, like Jim Jordan (see above).

And now, the other side of the coin. Just as small donors are not an unalloyed good, super PACs funded by fat-cat donors may not be as bad as you've been led to believe. This is not to say that the PACs are a good thing, exactly. But the fat cats are going to find a way to get their wealth into politics somehow, and they give to the PACs because the PACs can accept big checks and because the PACs are the way so many fat cats exert their influence and because the PACs usually have cool names like Save America PAC and Never Back Down. And the thing is, the PACs are, on the whole, a giant waste of money. If a rich person is going to spend $1 million or $5 million or $50 million on politics, what's better? Them being able to buy a politician directly, or them shoveling that money into an open furnace? Well, the PACs are not that far removed from "open furnace." So they are providing a useful service, of sorts. Unless you are sad when the remaining Koch wastes his money, that is.

The logic here is pretty simple. If a politician is actually able to attract broad support, the existence of online donation platforms like WinRed and ActBlue means they can raise their funds without needing much help from PACs. If, by contrast, their only talent is attracting the fat cats, they are not likely to have much electoral success, and the money they collect for their PAC is wasted. Put another way, good candidates don't need PAC money, and bad candidates can't flourish on PAC money alone (ahem, Ron DeSantis).

The current cycle is a good illustration of the general point. Money given to the PACs of presidential candidates not named "Trump" or "Biden" is already a lost cause, unless you somehow believe that keeping the Chris Christie campaign alive for an extra week will somehow fatally weaken Donald Trump. Meanwhile, money sent to a Biden PAC is a pretty poor investment since everyone already knows who he is and what he stands for. Money sent to a Trump PAC is also a pretty poor investment, for the same reasons as the Biden PAC, but also because Trump is likely to take most of that money and spend it on legal fees.

There was a time, 20 years ago or so, when PACs were big players in presidential politics. That is when the mindset of those who love PACs, and those who hate them, was set. But the PACs' #1 budget item was always TV commercials, and we live in an era where TV commercials are much, much less efficacious than they once were. That is in addition to the fact that, once again, it is now much easier for politicians to connect directly with supporters.

This is not to say PACs are completely irrelevant, particularly if we consider the ones that advocate for specific issues (say, Emily's List) or for groups of candidates (say, the NRCC). But, like Mark Twain's death, their power has been greatly exaggerated. (Z)

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