The GOP’s PAC Shakedown

Of all the post-Watergate goo-goo election reforms, the one whose value Chatterbox has always thought greatest was public disclosure of campaign contributions. But this faith that “sunlight is the best disinfectant” has been challenged lately by the realization that public disclosure is actually aiding the shakedown of major corporations by the GOP. Consider the political action committee rankings posted on the Internet last week by Rep. John Boehner, chairman of the House Republican Conference. It scores PACs based on how much money they’ve given to Republicans who are in close House races. (It’s no trick getting business PACs to give money to Republican House candidates judged likely to win, so Boehner’s ignoring those.) A few years ago, this is the sort of list Common Cause might have publicized under the heading, “Bought and Paid For: Companies the GOP Must Cater to in the Next Congress.” Now it’s the sort of list the GOP assembles itself (relying, of course, on records compiled by the flagship post-Watergate-reform agency, the Federal Election Commission). Roll Call revealed the rankings’ existence today in appropriately censorious terms, but it’s preposterous to imagine that the GOP wants to hide them; a Boehner aide eagerly volunteered the web address (click “Follow the Money”) to Chatterbox earlier this week. Situated as it is on the web, a lobbyist couldn’t miss the list even if he were vacationing in Bora Bora. The idea is not to say “shame on you” to corporations that are trying to buy influence in Washington. It’s to scare business PACs that the GOP thinks haven’t bought enough influence into purchasing more.

At the risk of aiding this cheesy process, Chatterbox reports that the leading PAC giver to priority Republican House candidates (apart from PACs assembled by House Republican leaders themselves) is that of the Associated General Contractors of America. Also ranked high, unsurprisingly, is the PAC for the National Federation of Independent Business (the small business lobby: These are the guys who think the more big-business-oriented Chamber of Commerce is crypto-liberal). Next to last on the list is the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association PAC. Hey flyboys, if you want to keep those corporate jets aloft, better fork over! Ranked dead last is the Human Rights Campaign Fund Political Action Committee, which is probably just fine with them, and just fine with the GOP, too.

–Timothy Noah