The American electoral process is a complicated pr
ocess by means of which the electorate chooses those men and women who will represent their interests on the local, state and national levels. Of course, this is an oversimplification of the electoral process, which is influenced by a number of different factors having little to do with the “voice of the people.” Among those influences are the reaction of the mass media to any particular issue or candidate, the ability of that candidate to articulate his or her “message” in a con-vincing manner, the relative abilities of those public relations and other professionals employed to create a politician’s public image or persona (and to generate media interest in the candidate), and the various organised interest groups that use a combination of money and the voting tendencies of their members to shape the outcome of both the electoral process itself and the subsequent actions of elected officials. Though each of these external influences have a significant impact upon both the electoral and legislative processes, this paper will focus on Political Action Committees, the contemporary name given to those groups characterised as “organised interests.”This paper will examine the very crucial role of PACs in the American political system which Hedrick Smith has examined in depth in his book The Power Game. This paper will also look in some depth at the history of the Political Action Committee (PAC), the nature of its membership and role in the electoral and legisla-tive processes, the type of actions that PACs are in-volved in, the effects of PACs, and the return on PAC investment to the interest groups they encompass. It is the thesis of this paper that the influence of the contemporary PAC is enormous, and that an analysis of the financial contributions made in recent years by PACs to specific candidates and elected Senators and Congressman will, when compared to the voting patterns of those officials, demonstrate the inherent power of the PAC in shaping national political policy.
History of the Political Action Committee
The American penchant for joining groups was ob-served long ago by the French chronicler Alexis de Toqueville, who wrote in 1825 that Americans of “all ages, conditions, and minds, daily acquire a taste for association and grow accustomed to the use of it.” By 1988, 70.5 percent of the American population belonged to at least one organisation; among the most popular organisations supported by American citizens are church-affiliated groups, sports groups, labour unions, professional or academic societies, fraternal groups, social service or charitable societies, school frater-nities and sororities, and political clubs.Not all of these groups, of course, seek to influence congres-sional policy making, but each group and every individ-ual has a right to do so.
The First Amendment protects the right of the people to “petition the government for a redress of grievances,” and throughout American his-tory groups speaking on behalf of the different subsets of the “people” have swayed public policies and poli-tics. Such groups included the Abolitionists of the 19th century, the Anti-Saloon League in its crusade for Prohibition, the antiwar and environmental movements of the 1960s and 1970s, and the balanced budget, equal rights and nuclear freeze movements of the 1980s. A free society actively nurtures such groups and regards them as le-gitimate efforts on the part of the public to influence the political agenda. Until recent years, national policy making was dominated by a few well-organised, well-financed groups: labour, business, and medical interests. The current era, however, has seen a virtual explosion of more narrowly based groups that focus their energies, and their funds, on single interests, such as gun control and abortion.
While these and other interest groups have influ-enced congressional decisions literally since the be-ginning of the country’s history, lobbying methods have become increasingly more sophisticated, varied, polished and subtle. Significantly, the move from limited to “big government” has tended to reinforce the mutual dependence of legislators and lobbyists; PACs turn to Congress as a focal point for being heard and establishing a policy position, while Congressmen and Senators rely upon these groups to provide valuable constituency, technical and political information, to give re-election support, and to assist strategically in passing or blocking legislation addressing areas of