Forming a PAC: The Relationship Between Associations and Politics

March 28, 2018

Advocacy work is an important part of most associations. Executive leaders and staff members of associations frequently spend time meeting and educating congressional members on the issues important to their members. Being able to contribute to a Congressional member’s campaign provides a higher level of access and awareness for the association’s mission. Many associations form a separate segregated fund, commonly referred to as a Political Action Committee (PAC), to help achieve this. Corporations by themselves are not able to make political contributions pursuant to the Federal Election Campaign Act. By establishing a PAC, an association can receive contributions from their members that can be used to directly contribute to a candidate’s campaigns. More information on how to form a PAC or the specific rules can be found on the National Association of Business Political Action Committees’ website.

PACs formed by associations are some of the largest organizations in the country and give a voice to issues that may not otherwise be heard. Specific records of donors and contributions are required to be maintained by the Federal Election Commission and can be found on websites like OpenSecrets. One critical area that should be addressed as soon as a PAC is formed is, who will the PAC contribute to? To determine this, ask yourself these important questions:

  • Where and with whom has your association and members established relationships?
  • Are there congressional members that your leadership members already support?
  • Which congressional members are supportive to your specific cause?

As your association and members start to work with Congress, make sure you have extensive knowledge of the Senate and House Gift Rules. What may seem like a simple offer to play a round of golf, provide tickets to a concert or sporting event, a nice bottle of wine, or a wedding or a graduation gift to family members could have unintended consequences. The rules provide details on acceptable gifts and other provisions that describe gift situations.

A member, officer, or employee may accept gifts valued below $50, with a limitation of less than $100 in gifts from any single source in a calendar year. Gifts with a value less than $10 do not count toward the annual limit. No member, officer, or employee should knowingly accept a gift, except as provided by the gifts rule.

To avoid potential problems, associations and members should review the general rules and know the constraints and limits of the Congress members they work with. For more information, contact our association industry specialists at 301.231.6200.