How to Run for Congress – Dealing with PACs, Lobbyists and Interest Groups

When you’re first starting out, it’s a good idea to reach out to PACs (who work for issues you support) for campaign donations and endorsements.  But in just a few short weeks, you’ll probably be inundated with surveys asking your opinion on things you’ve never even heard of, let alone formed an opinion on.  It’s a good idea to assign someone to fill these forms out.  Most PACs won’t support you, financially or otherwise, without answering the surveys.  And since you’re the candidate, you can answer questions however you want.  If there are questions you can’t even begin to address, because they are so complicated or into the minutia of an issue you’ve never considered before, feel free to leave those blank.  But always fill them out and send them in.

Lobbyists, special interest groups and PACs won’t really be something you’ll have to deal with head on unless your candidate has a real shot at winning – so if they’re trailing you at least it means you’re on the right track.  There are a handful of ways PACs may choose to help you:

  • Direct campaign donations – some PACs and special interest groups choose to give all the candidates who ‘score’ a certain percentage on their surveys a set amount of money as a donation.
  • Donations with strings – if a PAC is particularly interested in your race, it may give you $XXX specifically for radio ads, or for a mail piece that they help design.  The ad will still have your political disclaimer on it, but they’ll want tons of input since their fronting the cash.
  • In-kind donations with really thick strings – Sometimes, very rarely, a PAC or interest group will get really involved, and even send people to run your campaign for you (I used to be that person).  This can be a fantastic boost, but remember that, if you choose to accept the help, their loyalty lies with the special interest, not your campaign.  Sometimes these folks try to make your campaign all about their pet issue – even if it’s not a good message match for your race/district.
  • Indirect expenditures – some PACs choose to support you, create and send a mail piece bashing the hell out of your opponent, and you won’t find out until it hits your mailbox, or your neighbor’s.  It’s totally legal for PACs to ‘support’ you, even if you don’t like their negative message, as long as you’re completely in the dark about it.

The good news is, if you don’t know anything about independent expenditures you don’t like, you can rightfully say “I had nothing to do with this ad and I denounce its negative tone altogether!”  Just make sure any PACs you are associated with know how you feel.  That way they won’t take it personally when you condemn their dirty behavior.  Whether you like it or not, negative campaigning is very effective.  (For the record, I am NOT a fan of negative campaigning).

Finally, make sure that the amount of money you receive doesn’t exceed the $5,000 PAC limit.  The PAC should be watching this closely, but it’s you who’ll get all the negative press if you mess up.