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Democrats And Incumbents Reap Rich PAC Harvest For Fall Elections

August 31, 1990

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Political action committees are donating record amounts to congressional candidates, favoring Democrats over Republicans and - by a wide margin - incumbents over challengers.

New Federal Election Commission figures showed Thursday that candidates running for Congress in the 1989-90 election cycle collected a record $93.7 million from PACs from Jan. 1, 1989 through last June 30.

The total compares to $88 million in the first 18 months of the 1987-88 election cycle and is a dramatic increase from the $71 million given to congressional candidates in the 1985-86 cycle.

Democrats, who control Congress, easily outdistanced Republicans, receiving more than $59 million from PACs compared to more than $34 million for GOP candidates.

Most PAC contributions, $79 million, went to incumbents, while $6.5 million went to challengers and $8.1 million to those running for open seats.

Fred Wertheimer, president of the congressional watchdog group Common Cause, said, ″The extraordinary ratio of incumbents to challengers just reaffirms that PACs are an incumbent re-election machine today, and a central part of what is wrong with the current campaign finance system.

″They are playing a major role in making it exceedingly difficult for challengers to have a chance to run competitive races, and they are obviously continuing to use their money to try to influence congressional decisions.″

Each house of Congress passed legislation to curb spending for congressional campaigns. However, the versions have major differences, and it is unclear whether a compromise can be worked out this year.

Wertheimer said he favors the two-tiered approach in the Senate bill: ban PACs altogether, but if that provision is ruled unconstitutional, severely limit PAC contributions.

The Senate fall back provision would limit PAC money to 20 percent of a candidate’s campaign contributions, and limit a single PAC’s contributions to $1,000 per candidate for each election.

Current law only limits individual PAC contributions, with $5,000 allowed per candidate for each election.

The House bill would impose an aggregate PAC limit of $275,000 for each candidate. The current $5,000 contribution limits would be retained.

Most PACs are formed by special interest groups, labor organizations and corporations.

In the 18-month FEC figures, corporate PACs led in al categories of donations, contributing $35 million to federal candidates, followed by the $26 million contributed by PACs in the combined category of trade associations, membership organizations and health groups. Labor PACs were next with $20 million.

The study also showed that overall PAC spending for federal candidates increased by 8.3 percent, to $233 million, in the first 18 months of the current cycle. Total PAC receipts rose 3.3 percent to $275 million.

More than $66 million of the PAC contributions went to House candidates, while $27 million went to candidates for the Senate.

The FEC said the most money collected by a PAC was $8 million, by the Teamsters-run Democratic Republican Independent Voter Education Committee. The American Medical Association Political Action Committee was next, collecting $4.7 million.

The Teamsters organization also spent the most, $6.4 million, followed by the AMA’s PAC, which spent $3 million.

American Telephone & Telegraph’s PAC led corporate committees, collecting more than $2 million, followed by the Federal Express Corp. PAC with just over $1 million. The two PACs also led corporate disbursements.

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