Politics

Kirsten Gillibrand Says Goodbye to Corporate PAC Money

Union money still OK for potential White House candidate

Gillibrand says corporate PAC money has a "corrosive effect" in politics. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a potential contender in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, said Tuesday she would no longer accept donations from the political action committees of for-profit companies.

Her prohibition includes contributions from PACs connected to trade associations and law firms, her spokesman Glen Caplin told Roll Call in an email, saying the goal was to "get corporate money out of politics."

PAC money from labor unions is still welcome, Caplin said.

PACs have amounted to about 15 percent of Gillibrand’s donations over her career in the House and Senate, according to data from the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. A majority of that political money, 65 percent, has come from business PACs.

Labor PACs represented about 14 percent of Gillibrand's PAC dollars, while ideological or single-issue PACs amounted to more than 20 percent, the center’s data showed. She did not say that she would return past donations from corporate PACs.

“I want to reduce the influence of money in politics,” Gillibrand, who is up for re-election in November, said in a news release.

Lawyers and employees of securities and investment firms are among Gillibrand's top donors, the Center for Responsive Politics has tabulated using Federal Election Commission records.

“I believe the flood of special interest and secret money into campaigns is corrosive and leading to corruption both hard and soft in Congress,” Gillibrand said. “We won't be able to bring down Medicare drug prices, stop companies from outsourcing our jobs or start to rebuild the middle class until we can stem the unlimited influence special interest money applies over politicians.”

Some groups seeking to overhaul political money laws cheered Gillibrand’s move.

Tiffany Muller, president of End Citizens United, said the group had endorsed Gillibrand’s re-election effort because of her  PAC ban. The group takes its name from the 2010 Supreme Court decision that paved the way for super PACs.  It also pledged to mobilize 400,000 grassroots and small-dollar donors nationwide to help the senator raise money.

“She has seen firsthand how corporate mega-donors manipulate Congress and put politicians in their pocket to pass bills, like the disastrous tax bill,” Muller said in a statement.

Muller’s group called Gillibrand’s decision part of a growing trend that includes Rep. Beto O’Rourke, a Democrat who is running for Senate in Texas, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.

Meanwhile, Rep. Greg Gianforte ditched his PAC-money prohibition and reported about $20,000 in such contributions during the final quarter of 2017, Roll Call found.

Republican campaign finance lawyer Cleta Mitchell noted that corporate PACs are comprised of donations from individuals working at a company, while law firm partners' donations are reported as contributions from those specific partners, not the firm itself.

“Not a dime of corporate money is in the PAC account – just the after-tax, voluntary contributions from corporate employees,” Mitchell said, calling the move a "stunt" unless Gillibrand decided to ban contributions from individual lawyers and corporate employees.

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