The cartoon below the headline “Examining the Issue of PACs” in the Feb. 17, 1984, Jewish Times showed a generic political candidate being propped up by people wearing shirts that say “PAC,” a concept author Boris Smolar said a majority of American Jews were not familiar with.
It seems the jury was still out, even in Congress to some degree, about the role of PACs (political action committees) in politics. On a proposed bill to limit the amount a candidate could take from PACs, the author noted that “most lawmakers are not inclined to favor it.”
The article noted that there were 3,479 PACs across the country — including 31 Jewish PACs — up from 113 in 1974. Those PACs contributed $83 million, “of which $35 million came from large corporations interested in gaining influences in Congress,” the article said. Last year, PACs spent $500.6 million on candidates. (The number of PACs hasn’t increased dramatically, according to various sources.)
The article noted opposition from Americans who considered the system “legalized bribery” enabling special interests to gain influence in Congress.
With a few tweaks, the article could arguably be published 35 years later. The issue of corporate money in politics has not gone away, and some would argue has gotten much worse. Locally, Congressman John Sarbanes (D-District 3) has been pushing for campaign finance reform for years. And several members of the freshman class of Congress have been drawing attention to what they view as money’s unjust influence in the legislature.
At the time the article was published, some Congress members said they supported changes in the law to diminish the effect of PACs, but would accept the money until those changes took places. Two Democratic presidential candidates even refused PAC money.
The American Jewish Congress may have been ahead of the Jewish community at the time, expressing that PACs were a great way to pursue Jewish interests.
As the article read: “Until PACs are curbed by legislative changes, it was argued, Jews, too, must participate in the present PAC process.”
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