Lamb’s Meaningless Money Pledge

July 20, 2021

The Daily Beast reports that despite taking a pledge to not accept any corporate PAC money, Conor Lamb has found a way “to benefit from corporate largesse.”

Lamb – a co-sponsor of the “Ban Corporate PACs Act” – has “amassed contributions from top brass at hedge funds, as well as tech and health firms.”

NRCC Comment: “Everything Conor Lamb says and does is a calculated move to further his own political career, and finding a way around his own pledge to reject corporate PAC money is no different.” – NRCC Spokeswoman Samantha Bullock

In case you missed it… 

The Meaningless Money Pledge Democrats Love To Take 

The Daily Beast 

Roger Sollenberger 

July 20, 2021

One hundred and fifty-five Democratic candidates for Congress took the pledge in 2020, vowing that they would not accept any corporate PAC money. But there’s a reason so many were willing to take that stand: because it’s largely meaningless. 

Take Rep. Cindy Axne (D-IA), for example. You may think pledging to not accept corporate PAC money means Axne hasn’t taken a dime from businesses or special interests, but that would be far from correct. For Axne, who sits on the Financial Services Committee and the Agriculture panel, the money still found a way into her campaign coffers. 

The second-term lawmaker has actually received tens of thousands of dollars from corporate executives—and hundreds of thousands of dollars from donors in the financial world. She’s received contributions from executives at corporations which have their own PACs, including ITC Holdings and Wells Fargo, as well as from numerous execs in industries within the scope of Axne’s committee jurisdictions—most specifically the financial sector. 

And she’s taken money from lobbyists, like Michael Williams, the founder of the Williams Group, a D.C. firm which registered to lobby Congress on behalf of seven major financial firms two weeks after Williams’ donation. Last July, the US Chamber of Commerce—the largest lobbying organization in the country—also gave her $1,000, weeks after the right-leaning pro-business group honored her with its “Spirit of Enterprise Award.” 

(Axne did delete the corporate PAC pledge from the “issues” page on her website sometime in late 2019 or early 2020, according to internet archives. The page appears to have undergone no other significant edits.)  

Axne did not reply to The Daily Beast’s request for comment. 

Axne, of course, is far from unique. She joined a wave of Democratic candidates in 2018 in rejecting corporate PAC contributions. And with the exception of a $2,500 gift from Land O’Lakes PAC in early 2019, she kept her word. When she received a $1,500 donation last year from the PAC belonging to Rock Holdings—the parent company of Quicken Loans—she returned it the same day. 

But, as these Democrats know well, they don’t need to take corporate PAC money to benefit from corporate largesse. 

Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), who as a presidential candidate returned a donation from pharmaceutical company Cordera, got big checks last year from the heads of Qualcomm, Google, and PayPal. And outspoken progressive Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA), who also doesn’t accept corporate PAC money, still received maximum contributions from the leaders of major investment firms, as well as a max-out donation this March from the CEO of Masimo, which has a corporate PAC. 

Moderate Democrat Rep. Conor Lamb (D-PA) has also rejected corporate PAC money, but he’s still amassed contributions from top brass at hedge funds, as well as tech and health firms. 

In fact, all four sitting House co-sponsors of the “Ban Corporate PACs Act” have taken donations from executives of companies with their own PACs, according to The Daily Beast’s analysis of campaign disclosures. 

Paul Ryan, vice president of policy and litigation at Common Cause—a nonprofit that advocates for election reform—said that while pledges are a “nice gesture,” they’re not airtight. 

“Pledges not to take corporate PAC money shut down one avenue for influence, but corporate PAC money can also get to candidates through trade association PACs. And corporate executives, employees, and shareholders can make contributions directly to candidates,” Ryan said. “Further, voluntary candidate pledges are unenforceable, and open to liberal interpretation by the candidate who took the pledge.” 

Corporate PACs comprise a comparatively small amount of overall campaign donations. They can’t give a candidate more than $5,000 per election. And while they pool money from voluntary employee contributions, many PACs draw a large share of that funding—sometimes the majority of it—from executives. 

Kedric Payne, general counsel for campaign finance watchdog the Campaign Legal Center, pointed out that while anti-corporate pledges are largely symbolic, they are also an admission that such gestures are important. 

“The point is that the lawmakers are acknowledging that the public’s trust is diminished when there is an appearance of wealthy special interests having undue influence, which is the key reason to refuse a perfectly legal PAC contribution,” Payne said. “However, it is very difficult for any lawmaker who refuses those contributions to persuasively justify accepting money from executives and lobbyists representing the same corporations. Voters deserve real transparency from their elected officials when it comes to these inconsistencies.” 

The most egregious example of a one-eighty on corporate PACs was perhaps pulled by two-term congresswoman Rep. Jahana Hayes (D-CT). Hayes rejected corporate PAC money during her 2018 bid, but has accepted more than $100,000 from those groups since then. 

Corporate interests also pass money through trade organizations, fueled in large part by executive donations. Last election, Axne (who has been called out on this point before) received the maximum allowable amount from the American Bankers Association PAC, federal records show. In total, her campaign took in well over $100,000 from similar groups. 

Ultimately, campaign finance watchdogs say, a legislative approach is the only way to effectively clamp down on corporate influence. 

“What we need are strong campaign finance laws that apply to every candidate,” Ryan, from Common Cause, said. “And we need an FEC that does its job and enforces the law. We need the Senate to pass the ‘For the People Act.’” 

On that issue, Axne and hundreds of other Democratic officials appear to agree.