Moving Your PAC Successfully through a Challenging Political Landscape

March 25, 2021

Shannon Manning, Senior Vice President, Strategic Communications

The dust has started to settle a bit from the events surrounding the 2020 election, but many PAC leaders are still facing scrutiny and organizational uncertainty about how to move the PAC forward. Some groups, including media, PAC eligibles, and non-eligible stakeholders, will continue to question PAC operations and the role PACs play in the broader political landscape for some time to come, but the current landscape offers opportunities to strengthen your relationship with your PAC eligibles and help your PAC emerge stronger than ever.

Keep the Long View while Addressing Immediate Concerns

There is not a one-size-fits all response. Every eligible class is made up of employees and stakeholders with diverse backgrounds, varying political views, and different levels of knowledge and interest in the political process. You should listen to your eligibles and work to find solutions that address their concerns; at the same time, you—and your organization—should remain committed to the core purpose of your PAC as a business PAC and recognize how it needs to be able to engage with lawmakers to fulfill that purpose.

How to Speak to a Politically Diverse Eligible Base

You may not have all the answers yet. You may still be trying to identify all the questions that need to be answered.

In working closely with clients to navigate this uncertain time, we have coalesced around a few key themes that can help you address concerns while your organization is making longer-term decisions:

1. Continuing to Engage with Lawmakers Is Better than Not Engaging with Them

The political dialogue will continue regardless of how you handle giving decisions moving forward. Not only do you need to be able to work with candidates from both sides of the aisle but doing so is also the best way for your organization to encourage civil debate and responsible governing. You can only shape the conversation if you are part of the conversation.

2. Showcase Your PAC’s Purpose

Re-establish your PAC’s distinct role as a business PAC. Connect the dots between the PAC and your organization’s business objectives, including the business-related policy issues that help guide your giving strategy. Back this up with examples of policy wins or ways that your PAC has benefitted stakeholders.

3. Emphasize Transparency 

Our clients know corporate and association PACs are among the most transparent funding mechanisms in politics, but stakeholders may not. Help your stakeholders understand just how regulated and transparent connected PACs are—and how they are designed to equalize influence among stakeholders. This knowledge can be paramount in rebuilding or maintaining trust and credibility across your organization. Some key talking points include:

  • Political action committees are highly regulated by the Federal Election Commission (FEC) which sets giving limits and reporting guidelines for every PAC.
  • Contribution ceilings ($5000) exist to create a level playing field among corporate PACs and limit their individual influence.
  • All contributions to the PAC over $200 and all contributions from the PAC to candidates are reported and can be viewed by the public through resources like the FEC’s website, Open Secrets, and the PAC’s own annual report.
4. Reaffirm Your Commitment to Bipartisanship

Emphasize the non-partisan nature of corporate and association PACs to help support your giving strategy and promote unity among eligibles who hold opposing viewpoints. Eligibles should recognize that candidates need to understand your organization and the issues that matter, regardless of political affiliation. Remind eligibles that successful policies require input from both conservative and liberal policymakers, and showcase how candidates on both sides of the aisle have advocated for your issues.
Ground your PAC’s work in the foundational truth that bipartisanship leads to a stable policy environment for your industry. Many pieces of enduring legislation, including the creation of the Interstate Highway system and the Voting Rights Act, have only come to fruition through bipartisan input and compromise. Policies that don’t have strong bipartisan support often tend to change as soon as the balance of power changes, which creates uncertainty for businesses that need to implement long-term strategies.

5. Educate about PAC Governance

Give visibility into how contribution decisions are made, who has a seat at the table, and what factors are considered. Eligibles tend to be distrustful when they feel they don’t understand what is being done with their PAC donations. PAC leadership can be great messengers to help guide conversations about how the PAC works and provide updates to stakeholders.

This may be an opportune time to revisit giving criteria and evaluate whether they still align with your organization’s goals and vision. As you do so, remind your organization’s leadership and eligibles that the PAC’s guiding principles must be applied equally to every candidate and, therefore—while they may be shaped by current events and shifts in public opinion—ultimately need to stand independent of them.

Current Challenges Are also Opportunities

Don’t go dark! If you paused PAC communications, consider restarting them sooner rather than later. Communicate proactively now to ensure your PAC emerges from the current challenges stronger and better poised to build loyalty and engagement in the coming years.

Make sure eligibles know where to find PAC FAQs, bylaws, candidate criteria, and other important documents; if they aren’t already, make sure those resources are readily accessible on your PAC website.

Maintaining an active dialogue is essential. You may be facing some distrust and misperception in the short term; responding effectively can actually strengthen perceptions of the PAC longer-term if you confront concerns directly and authentically.

Shannon Manning is a 25-year veteran of issue advocacy and PAC campaigns across a wide range of issues and industries. She leads DDC’s Strategic Communications department and has helped spearhead DDC’s PAC engagement practice since 2002.

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