GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) – Cheri Beasley says she doesn’t take money from corporate political action committees. Her opponent in North Carolina’s race for the U.S. Senate, Republican Ted Budd, has some questions about that.
Then you see Beasley point her finger at Budd for taking contributions from influential interest groups and say he votes in Congress to support their interests.
And you see that PACs buy TV advertising to support their preferred candidates, and if you dig into reports filed with the Federal Election Committee, you find that PACs limited to $5,000 donations get those dollars in some cases from the distributions by corporate PACs.
So how can a candidate such as Beasley who says she doesn’t take corporate PAC money make that claim when corporate PAC money appears to be flowing in to support her? It’s complicated.
And for a few more weeks in this election, you will be seeing a constant flow of these “complications” across your TV screen in support of Beasley, a former chief justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court, and Budd, the gun-shop owner from Advance who has represented the 13th Congressional District since 2016.
They are locked in what the polls have shown to be a virtually dead-even race to replace retiring Republican Richard Burr and perhaps establish which party controls the Senate in January. Libertarian Shannon Bray, a Department of Defense employee from Apex, and Green Party candidate Matthew Hoh, a retired State Department employee from Wake Forest, also are on the ballot if not so much in TV ads.
All that fund-raising and finger-pointing is an almost perennial plank of national election campaigns, and in a race as important to the political parties and their backers as this one is, where tens of millions have been donated and are being spent with fervor, the source of the dollars typically is part of the debate.
That came to the forefront this week when the PAC controlled by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced two major ad buys to support Beasley, and numerous ads in support of Budd, who is supported by the conservative super PAC Club for Growth, danced across screens.
Inspection of the donations listed in Beasley’s quarterly filings with the FEC shows many PACs on the list of donors, and inspection of some of those PACs shows those corporate dollars.
For instance, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker’s Purpose PAC, which has made maximum donations to Beasley, lists among its contributors such entities as New York Life Insurance. Schumer’s PAC gets some of its money from AT&T, Eli Lily, Merck and Lockheed Martin. You can find detailed lists by candidates and dig as deep as you want.
“Yes, PACs can accept contributions from other PACs,” Eric Heberlig, a professor in public policy at the University of North Carolina Charlotte and an expert in election finance, wrote in an emailed response to questions from WGHP. “Leadership PACs (like Booker’s or Schumer’s) especially take lots of contributions from other PACs and then redistribute those $$ to candidates they favor.
“Contributions from political parties are similar. The $ they donate to candidates is going to come from a mix of individual and PAC donors.”
And that’s why Budd’s campaign officials question Beasley’s claims about corporate dollars.
“If that blatant hypocrisy were not enough, Cheri Beasley is also backed by Senate Majority PAC (the Chuck Schumer Super PAC), which from a quick Google search reveals Honeywell International PAC donated $100k in January 2022,” Samantha Cotten, a spokesperson for Budd, said.
“This begs the question, does Cheri Beasley really believe corporate PAC money is bad or is it only bad if it’s a corporate PAC supporting a Republican? Let’s not forget that she’s also taken a bunch of money from corporate executives and corporate lobbyists – including a lobbyist that represents the evil Big PhRMA (gasp!).”
That “gasp” is because Beasley often points out that Budd took corporate money from pharmaceutical companies and then voted against policies more unfavorable to them, such as against the limitations on the price of insulin and other prescription price controls.
When Beasley says she doesn’t take corporate donations, she is like a lot of Democrats who take a pledge from End Citizens United, a voting rights group whose focus is “getting big money out of politics and protecting our right to vote.” The group takes its name from the controversial “Citizens United” decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2010 that established that corporate dollars in political campaigns are equal to the free speech protected by the First Amendment.
Beasley is among more than 100 candidates – all Democrats – for the House and Senate who have taken the group’s pledge and earned its endorsement. Each one completed a 13-page form that includes a commitment about campaign fundraising.
“The requirement is to not accept corporate PAC money, which is a specific category of contributions defined by the Federal Election Commission,” Bawadden Sayed, deputy communications director for End Citizens United, wrote in a response to questions from WGHP. “We confirm that campaigns have kept their pledge through their FEC reports.
“Cheri Beasley has also been proactive about ensuring she has kept her promise. Her campaign returned a $2,000 corporate PAC check earlier in the cycle when they were made aware of it.”
Said Cotten: “We’re very transparent about our donors. You have to wonder why Cheri Beasley is trying to hide her donors.”
Beasley’s campaign responds by pointing out how Budd is using donations.
“With Congressman Budd’s record of serving corporate special interests at the expense of North Carolinians, it’s not surprising that Mitch McConnell’s super PAC is running misleading ads in the latest attempt by Washington Republicans to bail out Congressman Budd,” said Dory MacMillan, spokesperson for Beasley’s campaign. “Voters in North Carolina know that Cheri Beasley is the onlycandidate in this race who doesn’t accept corporate PAC money and would ban it because she is committed to standing up to special interests and putting North Carolinians first.
End Citizens United also grades the voting record of all members of the Senate and House on legislative issues that address “anti-corruption and voting rights measures,” Sayed said.
In May Budd was graded “F” for his voting record, as was the case for every Republican representing North Carolina in the House or Senate. Only Rep. Kathy Manning (D-Greensboro) of the 6th Congressional District scored 100%.
Specific answers to how this works
If you continue to be confused about the technical nature of PACs, super PACs and plain old donations, WGHP created a list of questions for Heberlig to help explain this.
Heberlig knows his stuff. In 2012 he coauthored with Bruce A. Larson a book called “Congressional Parties, Institutional Ambition, and the Financing of Majority Control,” which explained politics’ need for more and more money. This is what he told us.
WGHP: How does the FEC classify PACS and super PACs from a campaign donation perspective?
ERIC HEBERLIG: PACs give $ directly to a candidate’s campaign. PACs are created by interest groups to donate $ to candidates because organizations are not allowed to take $ from their treasuries to give to politicians. The PACs must solicit contributions from members of the organization so that the members specifically consent to money being given to politicians. By law, PACs can only contribute $5000 to a candidate for each election cycle and can only accept $5000 per election cycle from each donor. The PAC can only spend what its members have donated. The limits are so that the interest group has little ability to bribe a candidate. A Super PAC is not really a PAC. It does not give $ to the candidate’s campaign. It buys its own advertising and controls the message, called Independent Expenditures. A Super PAC is not allowed to “coordinate” with the candidate. The Courts give this free speech protection and therefore says there is no limit on how much a SuperPAC can spend advocating a candidate or how much it can accept from donors to pay for these ads. The courts have said that since the $ is not going directly to the candidate, and is “independent” of the candidate, there is no risk of bribery or corruption. You and I may not buy that, but that’s the court’s logic for treating donations to candidates and independent expenditures differently.
WGHP: When a candidate claims not to have taken PAC money, what does that really mean?
EH: They only are accepting donations from individual donors or are self-funding. They are not accepting contributions from interest groups with Political Action Committees. Since Super PACs are buying ads independently of the candidate, the candidate cannot control their spending, and thus are literally not “taking” $ from them even if the spending clearly benefits them.
WGHP: In the modern era has any candidate NOT taken PAC money from some source or another? Is it disingenuous to claim otherwise?
EH: Yes, there are a few candidates every election cycle (more recently) who do not accept PAC donations. But, again, Super PACs can spend on their behalf. PACs can also encourage their members to give individual donations to candidates. So a candidate may not take corporate PAC $, but their campaign finance reports may show lots of contributions from CEOs, etc.
WGHP: Chuck Schumer’s PAC spent $4 million on ads this week to support Cheri Beasley. Club for Growth famously has given millions to Ted Budd. Is there any difference with those?
EH: Legally, there are differences in how a PAC and a Super PAC raise the money to pay for the ad, but from the perspective of the viewer seeing the ad, there are not. Likewise, studies show that viewers often do not distinguish between ads run by the candidate’s campaign versus ads run by PACs or Super PACs or political parties. To the viewers, they all seem like candidate ads.
WGHP: Aren’t there PAC donations embedded in the details of the quarterly contributions reports filed with the FEC?
EH: Yes, candidates must report all donations – from individuals and PACs – to the Federal Election Commission. PACs and Super PACs have to report their spending and donors to the FEC as well.