New Jersey Democratic Senator Cory Booker made headlines for announcing he was rejecting corporate Political Action Committee (PAC) money in February 2018. As I noted in The Intercept at the time, this is basically a gimmick. Corporate PACs can only give a limited amount of money, and it’s transparent. Furthermore, all the Senators making this announcement didn’t take that much money from corporate PACs to begin with. Instead, they were raking in money from large donors, bundlers, lobbyists, and corporate executives.
As an example of this, let’s look at some of who Booker, now a presidential candidate, has been fundraising with since 2018. I just glanced at some of his largest donors for 2018 receipts and came up with a short list:
Booker’s largest donor during this period is former finance executive Wayne Paglieri (screengrab from FEC):
Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes gave $5,400 to in March 2018.
Jack Bendheim, the president and CEO of Phibro an animal health and mineral nutrition company, gave $5,400. Venture capitalist Ronald Coway is another $5,400 donor. I could go on and on, but you get the point. PACs are basically a vehicle for one firm or another to put their money into one check, in a transparent fashion. If a trade group sends a PAC check to a Senator, you know that Senator is at least somewhat favorable to them. But another way to raise money is to simply have the executives at that firm or a bunch of lobbyists for the firm send the Senator money instead. That makes banning corporate PACs basically pointless, and might just make the system less transparent.
Over the 2013 to 2018 period, OpenSecrets notes that two-thirds of Booker’s cash has come from large donors, while around twelve percent has come from small donors.
Meanwhile, Democratic megadonor Steve Phillips, who married into a fortune based off of exploitative housing practices, is already setting up a Super PAC to benefit Booker. It’ll be interesting to see who lines up to finance this PAC.