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PACking a Wallop

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When a Leadership PAC and a Super PAC join forces, the influx of cash can help swing an election, concentrating power and weakening our democratic principles. A high profile example of the impact of such a PACkage (sorry) came to light after Roll Call reported that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s Leadership PAC, ERIC PAC, contributed $25,000 to the Campaign for Primary Accountability, a Super PAC dedicated to defeating incumbents. The contribution was to be used, in the words of a Cantor political consultant, “only in the effort to support Congressman Kinzinger, in a primary race against Congressman Manzullo.” (The two Republican Members of Congress were pitted against one another as a result of redistricting in Illinois. Kinzinger, a freshman, is a favorite of Cantor’s “young guns.”) Kinzinger’s race benefitted from another $25,000 contribution from Rep. Aaron Schock’s Leadership PAC, the Generation Y fund. The Generation Y fund contribution was also funneled through the Campaign for Primary Accountability.

Although Leadership PACs have long been used to by Members of Congress to curry favor with their colleagues, prior to the invention of Super PACS, there were limits on the amounts Leadership PACs could contribute to candidates’ campaigns. Now, those limits can be easily ignored.

The press around Cantor’s contributions revolves around the damage control he is doing to convince old guard in the House that he is still in their corner. But the inside baseball is not what should concern the public. Instead, the spectacle of Eric Cantor using the confluence of Leadership PACs and Super PACs to become kingmaker should be what is making the papers. In the last weeks of the campaign—a campaign in which early polling had Manzullo in the lead—the Campaign for Primary Accountability spent at least $75,000 on television ads to defeat Manzullo. Two-thirds of that amount came from two people: Cantor and Schock. Assuming Kinzinger is elected in the fall, voters in his district would be right to wonder whether in a tough vote, he will represent their interests, or the interests of Eric Cantor.