No-PAC Pledges Take Off

Beto O'Rourke

Texas Democrat Beto O’Rourke announced this week that he’s raised $6.7 million for his Senate challenge against Ted Cruz during the first quarter of 2018—and it came from more than 141,000 contributions, with an average donation of a little more than $40, according to the Texas Tribune.

O’Rourke has pledged not to accept money from corporate Political Action Committees (PACs). He didn’t take any during his 2016 race in Texas’s 16th Congressional District either, and at that point he was one of only six candidates to say no to corporate PACs. Now, though, he’s joined in his pledge by newcomers like Randy Bryce, who is challenging Paul Ryan in Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional district, and well-known Senate Democrats like Kirsten Gillibrand and Cory Booker, who both announced on February 13th that they’d turn down corporate PAC money.

CNBC reported that Booker and Gillibrand were joining a handful of other senators in making the pledge (including Massachusetts’s Elizabeth Warren, Vermont’s Bernie Sanders, and Washington’s Maria Cantwell), but dozens of candidates running for House seats have also done so, according to the grassroots political organization End Citizens United (ECU). The group told Buzzfeed that the trend away from accepting corporate PAC money for the next election cycle is a national one.

“The reason that they’re all doing this and campaigning on the issue is they see how much voters feel shut out of the system,” Tiffany Muller, ECU’s president and executive director, told Buzzfeed.

Voters in Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District special election in March appreciated Democratic candidate Conor Lamb’s decision to reject corporate PAC money—ECU commissioned a poll after Lamb’s surprise win in the strongly Republican district, and found that his stance on campaign finance made 45 percent of all voters more likely to vote for him. That included 20 percent of 2016 Trump voters, 79 percent of Clinton voters, and 61 percent of Independents. Lamb talked about his rejection of special interest money during his campaign and the message got through: 76 percent of voters said they knew he had refused corporate PAC money.

ECU polls in Texas and Colorado have also found the issue to be high on the list of voter concerns. In the Texas race between Beto O’Rourke and Ted Cruz, the ECU poll finds that 63 percent of respondents are more likely to support a candidate who has pledged not to accept money from corporate special interests. The survey, which was conducted in mid-January, found O’Rourke to be only eight points behind Cruz.

O’Rourke is still considered a longshot in the race, but his massive fundraising success during the first quarter of 2018 while rejecting corporate PAC money could spell trouble for Cruz, who has been named to ECU’s “Big Money 20” target list because of the large amounts of corporate fundraising he does as well as his legislative support for the existing campaign finance system: Cruz introduced a bill in 2016 that would have eliminated the limits on direct contributions to candidates from individuals and political committees.

O’Rourke, on the other hand introduced legislation last year that would prohibit congressional candidates from accepting contributions from PACs. And that is a great step in the right direction.