PACs That Pour Big Money To Tilt Our Elections Should Donate Equal Sum To Benefit Our Community. If They Don't, We Should Vote With Our Pocketbooks.

by Will Cullen *

* Mr. Cullen is a Belmont Heights resident


(Oct. 2, 2012) -- This past week the 47th Congressional District was invaded by a big-money, Political Action Committee, also known as a PAC.

Funded by the US Chamber of Commerce, a $300,000 ad campaign consisting of negative TV commercials was directed against one of the two major candidates running for the 47th congressional seat. This candidate’s opponent, who has the backing and endorsement of the Chamber of Commerce, was never mentioned in the spots and in fact had nothing to do with the negative ads.

This is how soft-money PACs work. They come into town with huge sums of money that no candidate could ever raise on their own, and then independently do the dirty work on behalf of their candidate. Because they have no official affiliation to the candidate they can be reckless with their charges and vague on fact with virtually no accountability. And don’t be surprised if another PAC buys air time to rebut the US Chamber ads. This happens every day in national politics and now it has come to Long Beach.

What’s at issue here is not which candidate to support or the legality of an abused system. The issue is about money. $300,000 is an obscene amount to throw into a local election by outside interests, all in an attempt to sway public opinion.

Imagine what this community could do with $300,000. A thousand trees could be planted, a new skateboard park could be built and a dozen community gardens could be created providing fresh produce to hundreds of residents. Instead $300,000 is being spent on television air-time. And PACs like the US Chamber of Commerce will be the first to state that they have the legal right to spend their money in any way they see fit. It is after all, their money. Or is it?

As I see it, it was the public who actually paid for this $300,000 campaign blitz because the Chamber of Commerce is made up of local businesses that pay membership dues which in turn pay for this PAC. These local businesses are supported by our dollars. The same applies to PACs funded by teachers, firefighters, police and some City employees who make individual contributions into their union PACs which are then used to influence local elections. It is the public that pays their salaries and supports these businesses.

So here’s an idea: Since it is essentially our dollars that are paying for these PACs wouldn’t it be nice if these PACs could return an equal amount of money to the very community they are trying to influence? For every PAC dollar spent a PAC dollar could be donated to a local community program of their choosing.

This week I contacted the US Chamber of Commerce and asked them to do just that, to make a $300,000 PAC donation to community programs throughout the 47th congressional district. I also spent 5 minutes viewing the local Chamber of Commerce website and quickly found 6 member businesses that I regularly support. I told these businesses that I was unhappy with the Chamber of Commerce ad campaign and for a period of time would need to withdraw my business patronage.

While I suspect that the people running the US Chamber of Commerce are laughing at my request for matching community donations, I can assure you that these six local businesses are not laughing. PACs like these cannot create money out of thin air. Their dollars start with the consumer and it is the consumer who decides where to spend their hard earned money.

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