Increasing numbers of candidates are refusing corporate PAC donations

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Ever since Citizens United and its accompanying Supreme Court decisions transformed campaign spending in American elections, many candidates decided that they would be better off embracing it rather than be left behind in the fundraising arms race.

“Until Republicans come to the table to discuss real campaign finance reform, we will continue to play by the current rules as we try to compete with the seemingly unlimited resources of the Koch brothers and other corporate special interests that fund Republican dark money groups,” said Chris Hayden, communications director of Senate Majority PAC, in an interview last February.

But much has changed since then. More and more congressional candidates are refusing to take corporate PAC money in what The Washington Post has referred to as a “litmus test” for Democrats.

It’s hard to believe how quickly this movement has grown. Last year, Congressman Ro Khanna (D-CA17) announced the creation of the “No PAC Caucus,” a new congressional caucus for members who vowed to reject lobbyist or PAC donations. It only comprised three members and garnered little attention at the time.

Now, according to End Citizens United, a group dedicated to “end Big Money in politics by electing campaign finance reform champions,” 170 candidates in the House and Senate have committed to refusing corporate PAC money. Out of those 170 total candidates, two House Republican candidates, both incumbents, have even committed to rejecting corporate PAC donations.

One might expect those individuals to be long-shot candidates in races flush with money, but that’s not the case. In fact, 39 of them are running in districts named “Red to Blue” by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the House Democrats’ campaign arm, 35 of them are in districts listed as “Toss-up,” “Lean R” or “Lean D” by the Cook Political Report, and 68 of them have already won their primaries and are running in the general election.

Signing the pledge to reject corporate donations has not caused an exodus of money from these races. The “Red to Blue” designation ensures an injection of money from the DCCC and other national Democratic Party committees to attempt to flip the district to Democrats. And, as a National Journal analysis shows, of the candidates who had specifically committed to rejecting corporate PAC money by taking End Citizen United’s pledge, four of them self-funded their campaigns, three of whom are running in competitive districts.

Notably, Gil Cisneros was recruited by the DCCC to run in California’s 39th district because of his ability to self-fund, despite being a former Republican who had voted for Sen. John McCain for president in 2008. Cisneros won a $266 million lottery jackpot in 2010 and has since put in $4.5 million of his own money into the race.

Given the increasing number of forecasts that predict a Democratic wave, there’s a good chance that after the November midterms, Rep. Khanna’s No PAC Caucus will be a little less lonely.

To learn more and track candidates who have pledged to reject corporate PAC donations, download this deck from our Presentation Center.