It’s not personal: PACs swiftly switched sides after their candidate lost

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Immediately after Sen. Mike Braun’s win over incumbent Joe Donnelly in Indiana, corporate PACs that previously supported Donnelly flocked to the freshman senator. (Jim Young/Getty Images)

“It’s not personal … It’s strictly business.”

The classic line from “The Godfather” (and a repurposed tagline for a TV show called “The Apprentice”) might as well be the motto for PACs that give to any and every incumbent member of Congress. For most PACs representing corporations and trade associations, party and policies don’t matter: they build good will by showing their support for the incumbent.

In 21 different 2018 races, one or more PACs gave money to an incumbent member of Congress and zero dollars to their challenger, then quickly switched sides after election results made it clear the victorious challenger would become an incumbent in the 116th Congress.

The most blatant example of this phenomenon is happening with Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.). PACs that ignored Braun in 2018 gave $178,500 to his incumbent opponent Joe Donnelly (D). Shortly after Braun’s victory, however, these same PACs gave a whopping $117,000 to the new incumbent.

Donnelly was notoriously PAC-friendly, taking nearly $8.2 million over his 12-year congressional career and a whopping $4 million during the 2018 cycle compared to just $784,491 for Braun. Braun now finds himself in a strong position to pick up where Donnelly left off.

The money is already flowing to Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), too. After 17 PACs gave a combined $105,250 to incumbent Dean Heller and zero dollars to Rosen, those same groups have already doled out $52,000 to the freshman senator.

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) is also making new friends, getting $41,500 from business-related PACs that gave $50,500 exclusively to Claire McCaskill before the 2018 election.

RaceLosing IncumbentWinning ChallengerIncumbent Total (Pre-Election)Challenger Total (Post-Election)# Donors
INS1Joe Donnelly (D-Ind)Mike Braun (R-Ind)$178,500$117,00033
NVS1Dean Heller (R-Nev)Jacky Rosen (D-Nev)$105,250$52,00017
MOS2Claire McCaskill (D-Mo)Josh Hawley (R-Mo)$50,500$41,50013
IL06Peter Roskam (R-Ill)Sean Casten (D-Ill)$81,150$28,50011
FL26Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla)Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D-Fla)$64,000$27,0007
CA25Steve Knight (R-Calif)Katie Hill (D-Calif)$38,500$20,0006
MN02Jason Lewis (R-Minn)Angie Craig (D-Minn)$36,499$16,0004
TX07John Culberson (R-Texas)Lizzie Fletcher (D-Texas)$16,500$11,0003
CO06Mike Coffman (R-Colo)Jason Crow (D-Colo)$11,000$10,0002
NJ03Thomas MacArthur (R-NJ)Andy Kim (D-NJ)$15,500$10,0002
IA01Rod Blum (R-Iowa)Abby Finkenauer (D-Iowa)$22,000$9,5004
IA03David Young (R-Iowa)Cindy Axne (D-Iowa)$30,000$8,0004
VA10Barbara Comstock (R-Va)Jennifer Wexton (D-Va)$22,500$8,0003
MI08Mike Bishop (R-Mich)Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich)$7,000$7,5002
KS03Kevin Yoder (R-Kan)Sharice Davids (D-Kan)$15,000$7,0003
GA06Karen Handel (R-Ga)Lucy McBath (D-Ga)$1,000$5,0001
FLS1Bill Nelson (D-Fla)Rick Scott (R-Fla)$3,000$5,0001
NY11Dan Donovan (R-NY)Max Rose (D-NY)$10,000$5,0001
CA21David Valadao (R-Calif)TJ Cox (D-Calif)$10,000$5,0001
MN03Erik Paulsen (R-Minn)Dean Phillips (D-Minn)$1,000$1,0001
OK05Steven Russell (R-Okla)Kendra Horn (D-Okla)$1,000$1,0001

So far, 84 PACs switched teams after the 2018 election led to their candidate’s defeat. The list, compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, does not include PACs that contributed to both candidates.

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association was the most eager PAC to fly from one candidate to another, giving a combined $60,000 to 12 successful candidates after contributing $77,000 to their formerly-incumbent opponents. The trade association is prolific, giving the sixth-most money of any PAC to candidates during the 2018 cycle.

Accounting firm Deloitte LLP also switched teams early, giving the maximum $5,000 to four candidates after giving the maximum $10,000 (for the primary and general elections) to each of their challengers during the 2018 cycle.

Defense contractor Honeywell is giving to focusing its giving efforts on newly-elected House members. The company’s PAC gave the maximum contribution to Reps. Lizzie Fletcher (D-Texas), Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D-Fla.) and Sean Casten (D-Ill.) after supporting their respective opponents in 2018.

If he is half as prolific as his 2018 opponent Peter Roskam, Casten should see large amounts of PAC dollars go toward his 2020 reelection campaign. As a high-ranking Republican who chaired the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Tax Policy, Roskam took the second-most PAC dollars — nearly $3.2 million — of any House candidate during the 2018 cycle.

The Operating Engineers Union gave the maximum contribution to another set of freshman House Democrats — TJ Cox (D-Calif.), Angie Craig (D-Minn.) and Max Rose (D-N.Y.) after giving $10,000 to each of their incumbent opponents before election day.

This phenomenon isn’t new, or out of the ordinary. Among nearly every industry, PACs gave 85 percent or more of their contributions to incumbents in 2018, and that giving trend hasn’t changed much over the last two decades.

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