Raising Money from Political Action Committees (PACs)

PAC fundraising check

Smart political campaigns put together a robust fundraising strategy that raises money through diverse revenue streams, including personal asks, events, online fundraising, and more. One advanced strategy that your campaign can use to raise the money you need to win is to spend some time focusing on PACs.

What is a PAC?

“PAC” is an acronym that stands for “political action committee.” A PAC is an organization that is formed to raise and spend money to support certain candidates, ballot propositions and issue campaigns.

Sometimes, PACs are formed based on an ideology (such as conservative, liberal, centrist, libertarian, etc.). Other times, PACs are focused on supporting candidates that take a certain stand on one or more issues (such as anti-business regulation, or pro-environmental protection). Still other PACs focus their energies in certain industries or areas.

Generally, PACs are either state-based (regulated by a state or local government and only allowed to give money to non-federal candidates) or federal-based (regulated by the Federal Election Commission and only allowed to give money to federal candidates). PACs are heavily regulated… if you want to learn more about the rules that apply to political action committees, check out Quick Answers to PAC Questions by the Federal Election Commission.

Why PACs are Different

Raising money from PACs is very different than raising money from individuals. Depending on where you are running for office, PACs are often allowed to donate larger amounts to candidates than individual donors. In addition, many PACs are flush with cash, meaning that they have lots of money to donate to candidates and political campaigns.

It’s not all champagne and roses though… Unless you are a well-known candidate that is all but assured to win your election, PACs can be difficult to raise money from. PAC fundraising is time consuming, and there are lots of hoops to jump through. Many political action committees require campaigns to fill out long questionnaires in order to receive funding, and some even ask to interview the candidate in person.

Raising money from PACs is very different than raising money from individual donors.

One other thing to keep in mind is that PACs generally only make contributions in larger elections.

There are tons of political action committees that are active in presidential, congressional, and gubernatorial campaigns. There are a good number of PACs that make donations in state legislative campaigns and in races for the mayor’s office in very large cities. But there are very few PACs that make donations in township and county level campaigns.

For this reason, your campaign should be realistic about whether it is worth your time soliciting donations from political action committees. If you aren’t running for an office at the state legislative level or above, or you don’t have at least an even chance of winning your election, chances are PAC fundraising will be more trouble than it is worth for your campaign.

Cold Approaches, Warm Approaches, and “Sure Things”

In my experience, there are three different types of approaches that your campaign can make with regard to political action committees.

First, there are cold approaches, where you campaign believes it might be a good fit with a certain PAC but has no prior connection with the organization, and thus needs to call the PAC, submit a PAC kit, fill out questionnaires, and see if the campaign might be able to receive a donation.

Second, there are warm approaches, where your candidate or someone working with or advising your campaign has a good relationship with a certain PAC (or someone on the staff of a certain PAC) and can provide a warm introduction for the campaign. In such cases, the candidate or finance director is often able to set up a lunch or dinner meeting with a PAC representative to build the relationship and make an ask.

Third, there are “sure thing” approaches, where the PAC has indicated that it supports your candidate, and your campaign simply needs to jump through the hoops and fill out the paperwork to receive the check.

No matter which of the three types of approaches your campaign will be taking with any one PAC, I suggest always starting of the approach with a phone call. Don’t just send out letters asking for meetings and wait for the phone to ring. Be proactive. Call up the PAC staff and introduce your campaign. Try to set up a meeting. Then you can follow up with a letter.

If the political action committee is a large organization and has a representative in your state or city, call that person first. If the PAC doesn’t have a local rep, then call the main number or national office.

Your PAC Fundraising Kit

In pursing PAC funding, it will be important for your campaign to have what is commonly known as a “PAC Kit.” This is a collection of documents that you can send to the PAC or can bring along to a meeting with PAC representatives. The PAC Kit should tell the story of your campaign, and contain lots of information, including:

  • The candidate’s bio and picture
  • Senior campaign staff bios and contact information
  • Issue position summaries
  • Information on why the PAC should donate to your campaign

Your PAC Kit should look nice, but not look so flashy as to make it appear that your campaign is wasting money. You can have a standard PAC Kit that you prepare in advance, and then customize for each individual PAC you are approaching.

Don’t Forget to ASK!

Like individual donors, political action committees won’t give to your campaign unless you ask. I have seen dozens of candidates and finance directors pay for nice dinners with PAC representatives who come back from the meeting sure that they will receive a check for the maximum allowable donation… but the check never comes. The reason is that the campaign staff or candidate never actually asked for a donation.

PACs don’t give unless they are asked. End your PAC meeting by asking simply, “Would your PAC be willing to make a $5,000 donation to our campaign?” (Or whatever the maximum PAC donation that is allowed for your election).

Remember, Focus on Individual Donors First

Political action committees can be an important source of revenue for your campaign, but no campaign should raise the majority of its money from PACs. The amount of money available from individual donors outweighs what is available from PACs by an order of magnitude.

For that reason, the vast majority of your campaign fundraising efforts should be focused on raising money from individual donors. Most campaigns should be spending more than 95% of their time raising money from individuals, and less than 5% focused on PACs.

Stick to Your Guns

One final note – remember to make sure that you, your candidate, and your campaign stick to your guns in conversations with PACs, and never compromise your principles. It can be tempting to change your positions on certain issues to fit a PAC’s preferred stance. Don’t do it. It’s not worth it.

Likewise, if a PAC representative ever tells you that they would be glad to make a donation but that they’ll need the candidate to do this or that once he or she is elected, run for the hills. Keep all of your dealings with donors (including PACs) honest, legal and ethical. It’s the only way to run a campaign you can be proud of.

Photo Credits: RikkisRefugeOther


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