If corporate PAC money is so bad, why don't they give it back?

It has become popular to announce your campaign for president as a Democrat and then immediately renounce corporate political action committee support. To date, Sen. Kristen Gillibrand (N.Y.), Cory Booker (N.J.), Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), and Sen. Kamala Harris (Calif.) have made promises not to take any corporate PAC money.  They remind audiences how campaign funding is out of control and the system needs reform.  They seem to respond to the anti-capitalist, anti-corporate activists who see rampant corruption surrounding legal, highly regulated corporate PAC contributions.

They could be accused of inconsistency.

Each member who has sworn off PACs had no problem with endorsing his corporate PAC check and using it to win his federal office.  It's as if we have forgotten these people's election history and believe in their sincerity only once they have announced their candidacies for president.

First, let's review their records.  Open Secrets, a nonpartisan organization that monitors the flow of campaign contributions, reports that each candidate has received PAC support:

Name                         Amount of PAC money received         % of PAC money raised

Kamala Harris                       $906,259                                03.98%

Amy Klobuchar                     $3,332,760                             21.84%

Cory Booker                          $2,418,756                             09.46%

Kristen Gillibrand                  $1,258,593                             .06.18%

Former vice president Joe Biden has not taken a pledge to ban PAC money from any potential campaign.  When he served as a U.S. senator from Delaware, he raised $235,755 from PACs, according to Open Secrets.  Biden currently controls his own PAC to help fellow Democrats (and build support with activists if he runs for president).  Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.) is the only consistent candidate because he has never taken PAC money to fund his elections.

Second, these candidates may not know or may choose to forget that corporate PAC money is the "cleanest" money in politics today.  Only the senior leader of a corporation can create and have his PAC registered.  Certain employees may provide contributions, but many may not.  Federal law defines who can be solicited for donations.  The PAC files its contributions, expenditures, and expenses with the Federal Election Committee (FEC).  Strict limits are established by law as to how much can be donated it each campaign.  Routinely, PACs are either audited separately or part of the corporate-wide audit to ensure no breaking of laws or business malfeasance.

Not surprisingly, corporate PACs are not dominated by the wealthy.  According to TRENDS, Trends in Federal Business Political Action Committee, 2015–2016 (the most recent data), the average contribution to a corporate PAC was $566.65, with over 10% of donations coming from retirees.  Corporate PACs can receive contributions only from individuals and spouses who work for the company and have a connection to it.  Only around 21% of employees choose to do so.  Often, the corporation promotes participation by matching contributions to a charity.  In fact, 43.8% match any PAC contributions with a charity match.  Employees of corporate PACS get involved in their PAC for a variety of reasons: to promote the interest of their company before the Congress, to get matched support for local nonprofits, and to be involved in the American political process — all great reasons for corporate PACs. 

The most authentic thing for the candidates denouncing corporate PAC is to return all their previous contributions, rather than expect us to forget their past.  Their current positioning smells of political hypocrisy.  We already see too much of that in politics today.

Dr. David Rehr is the director of the Center for Business Civic Engagement at the Schar School of Policy and Government, George Mason University.