Lengthy history with PACs follows Tulsi Gabbard into 2020

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Representative Tulsi Gabbard (left) with Senator Bernie Sanders (SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

In a CNN appearance on Jan. 11, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) announced that she is pursuing the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020. Gabbard is the first Hindu and the first American Samoan elected to Congress and is a Iraqi War veteran. First elected to the House in 2012, she became a leading anti-war voice, citing that as one of the reasons she became one of the few members of Congress to endorse Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in his unsuccessful 2016 Democratic primary bid. Gabbard had been vice chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee and resigned in 2016 in order to endorse Sanders.

In her time as a representative, Gabbard demonstrated an ability as a respectable fundraiser, historically getting a substantial amount of money from PACs. In 2014, Gabbard received more than $434,000 in PAC money, making up nearly 27 percent of all contributions. According to Center for Responsive Politics data, nearly 52 percent of those contributions came from business-affiliated PACs. She was also a recipient of $10,000 from the Off The Sidelines PAC, a leadership PAC affiliated with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) who is now weighing her own 2020 presidential run. Along with Gillibrand, another potential 2020 opponent of Gabbard, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), had his leadership PAC, CoryPAC, donate $2,500 to Gabbard.

In 2016, the amount of PAC money she received grew to more than $465,000. Again, business PACS made up the majority of her PAC money, this time over 55 percent. One of the largest contributing sectors was the defense industry. While Gabbard has gained a following for her anti-interventionist stances, yet, her 2016 campaign was given $63,500 from the defense sector. In fact, the campaign received donations of $10,000 from the Boeing Corporation PAC and from Lockheed Martin’s PAC, two of the biggest names in the military-industrial complex.Gillibrand’s Off the Sidelines PAC donated another $10,000 in 2016 as well.

In 2017, leading up to her successful reelection campaign, Gabbard announced she would  no longer take PAC money. After receiving over $400,000 in PAC money in her previous two reelection cycles, in 2018 her campaign only took in just over $37,000, almost all of which came from labor associations and trade unions.

Gabbard also had her own leadership PAC named Time to Unite Lead and Serve with Integrity. According to an FEC filing in June 2018, the PAC was terminated. However, during its lifespan for the 2014, 2016 and 2018 cycles, the PAC brought in substantial money. In 2013-2014, the leadership PAC saw more than $44,000 in contributions, $17,500 from other PACs. It did even better in 2015-2016, with PAC contributions nearing $31,000, according to FEC data. The majority of funds, $20,000, came from business PACs like Raytheon and New York Life Insurance Company. Gabbard’s leadership PAC’s largest contribution in the 2015-2016 timeframe was $13,000 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. The PAC also gave to a wide variety of Democratic candidates throughout its time, including $2,700 to Rep. Debra Haaland’s (D-N.M.) campaign in 2017.

Gabbard’s relations with PACs go back to her work and support as a young woman for her father’s anti-LGBT rights PAC, The Alliance for Traditional Marriage. According to CNN, Gabbard’s father, Mike Gabbard ran the PAC in the late 1990s which spent over $100,000 opposing pro-gay rights legislation and politicians in Hawaii. Gabbard is quoted in a 2000 press release from the PAC and had mentioned working with her father on a constitutional amendment to protect “traditional marriage.” However, her views have evolved since then and Gabbard has adopted pro-LGBT rights views as a member of the House.

Gabbard is not the only declared 2020 candidate eschewing PAC money. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who has launched an exploratory committee, has slammed super PAC money. Rep. John Delaney (D-M.D.) has been running for president since 2017 and also said he won’t be accepting corporate PAC money. Delaney, a millionaire and founder of two lending firms before being a member of Congress, has been mostly self-funding his campaign, spending more than $1 million of his own money as of the summer of 2018. Another recently declared candidate, former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro, said he won’t be accepting PAC money either.

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