Role of Political Action Committees in the creation of laws (Legislative Branch)
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The history of Political Action Committee can be traced back to 1943, when they first came to the political scene. In the USA, they refer to organizations that actively lobby for or against legislations, ballot initiatives or even candidates running for senate or the federal office (Glauber, 2013). As per the Federal Election Act, any organization is categorized as a PAC, if its spending towards influencing or lobbying for or against a federal election amounts to at least $1000 or more. On the other hand, they are governed differently in different states as per the laws of that specific state pertaining to them (Salant, 2013). They are known to raise as much as $5000 per member to be directed towards their spending lobbying for or against legislation or a candidate running for elective office.
PAC’s are generally categorized into three categories based on their involved in the processes of lobbying; connected, non-connected and super PAC’s. The first two are legally recognized by federal law while the third one was added by a judicial decision. Connected PAC’s are affiliated to many individuals of a restricted class from whom they solicit funds. They include trade and labor unions which only accept funds from members of these unions. On the other hand, non-restricted PAC’s accept funds from any individual and are not restricted to a specific class. When the court ruling in the Speechnow.org v. FEC case introduced independent-expenditure only committees, they were given mandate to accept contributions from anyone with no limit on the amount they could receive.
Perhaps, the biggest participation of PAC’s in the American society has been their weighing in on the creation of legislative laws. American citizens use PAC’s as one of the many mechanisms to make known their needs, ideas and views to the elected officials. They do this by lobbying or advocating on a certain issue. In American politics, they have been very successful in influencing the political process. One of the main features of the political system of the USA is federalism. The country has greatly decentralized power to localities and states throughout. These groups (PAC’s) are, therefore, hatched from the state level from where they join up to form national organizations or groups. Decentralization of power creates a viable environment for the groups to be formed and champion for their cause. This is coupled with the robust and independent judiciary in the country. The judiciary is able to making rulings on matters that in other democracies and states would be controlled by either the bureaucratic process or the legislature (Hays, 2001).
Consequently, these groups are able to attain litigation for certain matters and objectives for policies that would otherwise be achieved only through legislative processes. A good instance is in the 1950’s was the court victory of the NAACP the fight against segregation of blacks in the USA. This took place prior to the congress taking any action way much later in spite of the fact that it was composed of a majority of Southerners. As a result of the independent and rightly effective judiciary, these groups have been able to lobby for their ideas and hence the effectiveness achieved so far (Lindblom, 1977).
The United States of America enjoys virtually unlimited freedoms of press, speech and assembly. This means that any views expressed by these groups are entitled to a proper public hearing, no matter how drastic the views expressed are. Although there has been centralization of the press since the World War II, the openness offered to these groups through other platforms such as the internet has been very effective in achieving their course. The American free press and extensive freedom of speech offer myriads of opportunities for these groups to publicize the various societal predicaments. Consequently, they have been able to influence the political system by enlightening the public on social problems (Baumgartner & Leech, 1998).
The US political parties are considerably weak. This has fostered the influence of these groups on the American political system. These parties are weak owing the division of power between the legislative and the executive branches of government. In the US system of politics, the congressional and presidential elections are two separate political events even when held simultaneously. As a result neither of the two parties’ congressmen are bound to support their presidential candidates bid. These groups, thence, capitalize on the feeble party loyalty during the elections to provide financial backing. After their preferred candidate assumes power, they become vital contributors to the policy making process. They have capitalized on this and have been able to successfully influence the political landscape in the country (Hayes, 1981).
An excellent example is the FB PAC which was formed by the facebook group to lobby against privacy laws. The PAC reportedly spent a staggering $350 000 in 2010 and has been accepting donations from employees at its headquarters. This PAC has also been making contributions to any candidate who champions for innovativeness or any particular candidate who sits on a committee that affects social media. The PAC has also seen an increase in its spending with a growth to $500 000 in 2011 (Longbottom, 2011). This is just but one of the over 995 trade PAC’s and over 450 labor PAC’s in the USA. This particular PAC receives donations from its employees who are responsible for lobbying for the laws and legislations that they feel should be put forward in the nation in regards to their work and field of expertise. However, such a group is prone to being a part in advocating for personal interests especially for the managers and top brass of the company rather than the general feeling of its members. This may be attributed to the large donations which are made by specific persons in order to aid in the lobbying for or against certain laws.
In conclusion, not only are these groups’ important contributors, but also great advocates and lobbyists for the people’s views, thoughts and needs. They have been able to define and influence the political landscape by capitalizing on various aspects of our political system. They have been able to lead to a system of the people for the people and by the people- a great democracy. The citizens take advantage of these platforms in order to put forward a certain agenda or any new law they feel should be pushed or lobbied for or against. However, these committees are prone to the postulation of personal agendas in their lobbying. This can be particularly observed in the super PAC’s that are heavily funded by rich and wealthy persons in the country. However, they play a very vital role in checking and making sure that laws are passed after intensive scrutiny from all parties affected.
Baumgartner, F. R., & Leech, B. L. (1998). Basic interests: the importance of groups in politics and in political science. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
Glauber, B. (2013, March 16). Republicans tell conservatives it’s time to retool for 2016. Retrieved March 20, 2013, from Journal Sentinel Online: http://www.jsonline.com/news/statepolitics/republicans-tell-conservatives-its-time-to-retool-for-2016-rl96e8c-198624851.html
Hayes, M. T. (1981). Lobbyists and legislators: a theory of political markets. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press.
Hays, R. A. (2001). The role of interest groups. Retrieved February 6, 2013, from Democracy Papers: http://www.ait.org.tw/infousa/zhtw/DOCS/Demopaper/dmpaper9.html
Lindblom, C. E. (1977). Politics and markets. The world’s political economic systems. Basic Books.
Longbottom, W. (2011, September 27). Facebook forms its own Political Action Committee to lobby against privacy laws. Retrieved March 20, 2013, from Mail Online: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2042327/Facebook-forms-Political-Action-Committee-lobby-privacy-laws.html
Salant, J. D. (2013, March 19). Tea Party-Backed Super-PAC is Latest Challenge to Rove. Retrieved Maqrch 20, 2013, from Bloomberg: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-03-19/tea-party-backed-super-pac-is-latest-challenge-to-rove.html