It’s not personal: PACs swiftly switched sides after their candidate lost
“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.
|Race||Losing Incumbent||Winning Challenger||Incumbent Total (Pre-Election)||Challenger Total (Post-Election)||# Donors|
|INS1||Joe Donnelly (D-Ind)||Mike Braun (R-Ind)||$178,500||$117,000||33|
|NVS1||Dean Heller (R-Nev)||Jacky Rosen (D-Nev)||$105,250||$52,000||17|
|MOS2||Claire McCaskill (D-Mo)||Josh Hawley (R-Mo)||$50,500||$41,500||13|
|IL06||Peter Roskam (R-Ill)||Sean Casten (D-Ill)||$81,150||$28,500||11|
|FL26||Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla)||Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D-Fla)||$64,000||$27,000||7|
|CA25||Steve Knight (R-Calif)||Katie Hill (D-Calif)||$38,500||$20,000||6|
|MN02||Jason Lewis (R-Minn)||Angie Craig (D-Minn)||$36,499||$16,000||4|
|TX07||John Culberson (R-Texas)||Lizzie Fletcher (D-Texas)||$16,500||$11,000||3|
|CO06||Mike Coffman (R-Colo)||Jason Crow (D-Colo)||$11,000||$10,000||2|
|NJ03||Thomas MacArthur (R-NJ)||Andy Kim (D-NJ)||$15,500||$10,000||2|
|IA01||Rod Blum (R-Iowa)||Abby Finkenauer (D-Iowa)||$22,000||$9,500||4|
|IA03||David Young (R-Iowa)||Cindy Axne (D-Iowa)||$30,000||$8,000||4|
|VA10||Barbara Comstock (R-Va)||Jennifer Wexton (D-Va)||$22,500||$8,000||3|
|MI08||Mike Bishop (R-Mich)||Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich)||$7,000||$7,500||2|
|KS03||Kevin Yoder (R-Kan)||Sharice Davids (D-Kan)||$15,000||$7,000||3|
|GA06||Karen Handel (R-Ga)||Lucy McBath (D-Ga)||$1,000||$5,000||1|
|FLS1||Bill Nelson (D-Fla)||Rick Scott (R-Fla)||$3,000||$5,000||1|
|NY11||Dan Donovan (R-NY)||Max Rose (D-NY)||$10,000||$5,000||1|
|CA21||David Valadao (R-Calif)||TJ Cox (D-Calif)||$10,000||$5,000||1|
|MN03||Erik Paulsen (R-Minn)||Dean Phillips (D-Minn)||$1,000||$1,000||1|
|OK05||Steven Russell (R-Okla)||Kendra Horn (D-Okla)||$1,000||$1,000||1|
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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