How Association of Fundraising Professionals Has Used PAC Funds

December 16, 2012; Source: Bay Citizen

Amy Julia Harris of the Bay Citizen, a project of the Center for Investigative Reporting, recently examined how nonprofits are beginning to throw their weight around in the political arena. With over one million tax-exempt organizations in the country, perhaps 14 million or so paid staff, and over 60 million volunteers, nonprofits have a lot of latent heft in terms of numbers of people and organizations committed largely to charitable missions.

Of course, 501(c)(3) public charities are not permitted to engage in partisan political activity, but 501(c)(4)s and PACs certainly are. This past year, Robert Egger’s CForward PAC endorsed eight candidates for office, ranging from Sean Sullivan as a City Council member in Oakland, Calif. to Nate Shinagawa for Congress in Upstate New York (the subject of a recent Cohen Report), though the endorsements were not accompanied by what people typically associate with PACs and (c)(4)s: money. Nonetheless, Egger sees power in nonprofits, describing them as “the biggest unsolicited special interest group in America.”

Some nonprofit PACs, however, are giving money to ostensibly nonprofit-friendly candidates. Harris points to the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) Political Action Committee, chaired by Scott Staub, the executive director of the Friends of the San Francisco Public Library. According to Staub, the AFP PAC aims “to be a political player in a positive way” and to address the need of charities and charitable fundraisers so that they can “have a greater voice for philanthropy.” Staub cites the challenge of the fiscal cliff, suggesting, “When [the government] looks to make cuts and get new sources of revenue, charities, because of their tax-exempt status, always become an easy target.”

Whatever moneys the AFP or any other nonprofit-focused PACs might put into politics, they obviously pale in comparison to the big money people in politics, so why try to raise paltry sums for candidates? “It’s not pay-for-play,” Staub explains to the Bay Citizen. “But when you’re a financial supporter, it does seem to be an easier opportunity to have meetings with lawmakers to present our perspective on charitable legislation.”

Having been in the PAC game for a decade, the AFP seems, as Staub’s comment suggests, to focus on charitable giving legislation as opposed to broader issues of federal program funding that might be just as (if not more) important than the charitable deduction to frontline charities. In fact, the beneficiaries of AFP PAC donations haven’t always been as committed to government funding as they have been to incentivizing private donations. Here’s the list of all beneficiaries of AFP donations through 2012 (compiled from the PAC database of the Center for Responsive Politics at opensecrets.org):

Recipient of AFP PAC Donations

Amount

Election Cycle

Hatch, Orrin G (R-Utah)

$6,000

2012, 2008

Lewis, John (D-Ga.)

$5,500

2012, 2010

Baucus, Max (D-Mont.)

$5,000

2008, 2006, 2004

Camp, Dave (R-Mich.)

$4,500

2012, 2010

Tiberi, Patrick J. (R-Ohio)

$4,500

2012, 2010

Rangel, Charles B. (D-N.Y.)

$4,500

2008, 2006, 2004

Blunt, Roy (R-Mo.)

$4,500

2006, 2004

Grassley, Chuck (R-Iowa)

$4,000

2010, 2008, 2004

Santorum, Rick (R-Pa.)

$3,500

2006, 2004

Levin, Sander (D-Mich.)

$2,500

2012

Whitehouse, Sheldon (D-R.I.)

$2,500

2012

Schumer, Charles E. (D-N.Y.)

$2,000

2010

Thune, John (R-S.D.)

$2,000

2010

Boustany Jr., Charles W. (R-La.)

$1,000

2012

Van Hollen, Chris (D-Md.)

$1,000

2012

Cardin, Ben (D-Md.)

$1,000

2012

Snowe, Olympia (R-Maine)

$1,000

2012

Burr, Richard (R-N.C.)

$1,000

2010

Wyden, Ron (D-Ore.)

$1,000

2010

Tubbs Jones, Stephanie (D-Ohio)

$1,000

2008

McConnell, Mitch (R-Ky.)

$1,000

2008

McCrery, Jim (R-La.)

$1,000

2006

Shaw Jr., E. Clay (R-Fla.)

$1,000

2006

Lott, Trent (R-Miss.)

$1,000

2006

Murkowski, Lisa (R-Alaska)

$1,000

2006

Ford Jr., Harold E. (D-Tenn.)

$1,000

2004

Jefferson, William J. (D-La.)

$1,000

2004

Thomas, Bill (R-Calif.)

$1,000

2004

We wonder whether AFP members were fully aware of the politicians receiving donations from their PAC. In retrospect, did the AFP PAC meet expectations as to what a nonprofit-focused PAC should be doing with its contributions? —Rick Cohen