Image by Kanan Shah for COURIER.
Image by Kanan Shah for COURIER.

In the 2018 election cycle, 1,732 corporate PACs donated $404.8 million to federal campaigns—more than any other type of PAC.

In the 2018 election cycle, 1,732 corporate PACs donated $404.8 million to federal campaigns — more than any other type of PAC. This included more than $185 million in direct contributions to candidates. 

On Friday Nov. 15, U.S. Reps. Max Rose (D-NY) and Josh Harder (D-CA) introduced the Ban Corporate PACs Act, legislation that would put an end to corporate PACs.

Rose and Harder’s bill would take aim at corruption by amending the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 to ban for-profit corporations from being allowed to sponsor, operate, or fund PACs. It also would dissolve existing corporate PACs one year after implementation. 

“Corporate PACs flood this city with contributions, but it’s not the American people’s priorities they have in mind — it’s their own bottom lines,” Rose said in a statement. “That’s wrong and at the root of Washington corruption.”

The legislation was also co-sponsored by Reps. Antonio Delgado (D-NY) and Joe Kennedy (D-MA).

“Our democracy is supposed to be for the people, not the special interests. I joined my colleagues to help introduce the Ban Corporate PACs Act to even the playing field for the American people and make sure their voices are heard in Washington,” Delgado said in a statement.

The legislation has been praised by End Citizens United, a grassroots-funded PAC seeking to overturn the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United vs. F.E.C., which removed limits on independent campaign expenditures from corporations and labor unions. 

“By championing bold anti-corruption and government reform bills, Reps. Max Rose and Josh Harder continue to deliver on promises they made to voters in 2018,” said End Citizens United Action Fund President Tiffany Muller. “The introduction of the Ban Corporate PACs Act is a continuation of their commitment to making government work for people, not corporate special interests.”

The post-Citizens United years have seen a surge in spending from “super PACs,” which can accept unlimited contributions from corporations and special interests, and “dark money” political nonprofits, which are not required to disclose their donors.

Excluding spending by party groups, outside organizations spent about $310 million on the midterm elections in 2010, according to the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP), a non-profit, nonpartisan research group. Nearly a decade later, in 2018, outside groups–again excluding spending by party groups–spent over a billion dollars on the midterms, according to the CRP. 

As outside money has flooded the political system, a growing number of candidates — including all of the 2020 Democratic candidates — are refusing to take corporate PAC donations. 

Rose and Harder also refused to take corporate PAC money during their 2018 campaigns, as did nearly 200 other candidates for the House. 

The Ban Corporate PACs act is just the latest push from Democrats to reform the campaign finance system. In March, the House passed H.R. 1, an anti-corruption bill that would establish public financing for congressional elections and require nonprofit “dark money” groups to disclose their large donors.

Reforming the campaign finance system is broadly popular across partisan lines. Eighty-one percent of registered voters support a constitutional amendment overturning the Court’s decision in Citizens United, according to a 2017 survey from Voice of the People, a nonpartisan group, and the Program for Public Consultation at the University of Maryland’s School of Public Policy. The survey polled more than 8,000 voters across the country.

Despite this widespread public support for campaign finance reform, H.R. 1 has yet to go anywhere in the Republican-controlled Senate, which has largely refused to take up House-backed legislation this year. Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has also been a staunch opponent of campaign finance reform for decades and has argued that enacting any sort of limits on campaign spending amounts to infringing on constitutionally protected free speech.

Indeed, while Democrats are increasingly pushing for campaign finance reform, McConnell and fellow Republicans have continued to welcome corporate PAC donations. In the 2018 midterm cycle, 41 of the 50 House candidates who received the most corporate PAC money were Republicans, according to data from the CRP.

Armed with this knowledge, Rose and Harder are aware of the uphill climb their bill would face in the Senate.

“Mitch McConnell has never met a corporate PAC, federal lobbyist, dark money outfit that he doesn’t immediately fall in love with,” Rose told Vox in an interview.

Rose still emphasized the importance of introducing the bill, saying “we must send a clear, unmistakable message to the American people that we are here to fight for them and only them — not the special interests and corporate PACs.”