A PAC Mentality

05/25/2011 12:10 pm ET

Well the Swift Boat Veterans are at it again. Their impact continues to define our concept of what constitutes a 527 or a PAC . To some the very thought of a PAC/527 conjures images of vicious attack ads and underhanded tactics. The truth is there are 527's of many different stripes and with a variety of stated goals and intentions, but the good old bad old "Swift Boaters" keep grabbing the headlines. MSNBC recently referred to them when announcing the existence of a new 527/PAC advocacy group called VoteHope2008. To quote the incident directly ... here is what was said:

ROBACH: Good morning everyone. I'm Amy Robach. Three years after the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth slammed John Kerry in the harshest attack ads of the 2004 presidential race, the first similar group of this campaign ads have been formed. The group is called Vote Hope 2008 and was created to help Barack Obama. For today's first read in politics, let's check in with NBC News political director Chuck Todd. Chuck, thanks for being with us.

TODD: Good morning.

ROBACH: So, what do we know about this group?

TODD: Well, it's been founded by a couple of California Democratic donors, major activists and their -- it's a group that's supportive of Barack Obama. There's no evidence that it's going to be somehow a group that's going to launch negative attacks on Obama's opponents.

Amy Amy Amy . Bad girl Amy. This kind of lead-in is either deliberately misleading or it's just plain lazy journalism. Either way it is confusing and illustrates the gulf of understanding even among the press about what a 527 is and what they do.

In the interest of full disclosure I am a member of the VoteHope team. At least Chuck Todd did HIS homework and correctly reported who we are. For the record, our intentions as stated on every possible piece of information we have disseminated about ourselves is to organize grass-roots efforts to get out the vote in California. On the PAC side we have stated our goal as hoping to bank 500,000 absentee votes for Barack Obama before February 08. That's it ... that's our ball game ... not a negative ad on the horizon here.

These are some of the not so Swift Boaty 527's who were major players in the 04 election cycle were "America Coming Together" (a democratic interest group dedicated to defeating Bush) and "Americans for a Better Country" (a pro Republican group which aims to counter the efforts of democratic leaning groups.) There are "Billionaires for Bush" as well as "People of Color United" and here's one that Amy should keep her eye on: "The Sierra Club" ... they like nature, those Sierra Clubbers, and there are streams and rivers and oceans in nature ... good chance there is someone in that crowd who owns a boat that sails swiftly.

So what is all the fuss about and how does all of this work? In the interest of clarity and in layman's terms here is what I know about 527s and their close cousins ... the PACs. There are nuances of course and interpretations so varied that to try to comprehend them can cause the kind of headache that tempts one to reach for a ball-peen hammer and implant it in one's skull just to ease the pain. But this is basically how it works.

527's (Soft money) are permitted to raise unlimited amounts of money for political activities like voter mobilization and certain types of issue advocacy, but they cannot expressly argue for a federal candidate.

PAC's (Hard money) are permitted to collect a maximum of $5,000 per person per calendar year and can use it for the express purpose of supporting candidates that fit with their ideology.

According to, the following amounts of money were raised from 2005 to 2006 by 527's/PAC's: $383,491,976 overall with $164,084,944 put to use in candidate specific endeavors. In a perfect world this would not be acceptable ... it just seems plain wrong to see this kind of money being spent to gain influence in the political arena. It is legal however and if the bad guys are going to utilize these methods then the good guys had best get a move on and use them too.

McCain/ Feingold took a hit from the Supreme Court on Monday in the case of "Wisconsin Right to Life", but it has not been overturned and the central theme remains intact. The limits on contributions by corporations, unions and individuals to the political parties remain in place. So, that means no overnights in the Lincoln Bedroom for the fat cats and no undue influence from the special interests. The Wall Street Journal isn't pleased. They wanted the Court to go further and strike down the whole kit and caboodle but reason prevailed. This means that the parties will have to continue seeking support from the little guys too, which means they might actually have to listen to them once in a while and that is a GOOD thing. Yeah McCain/Feingold!!

As for me and why I am choosing to work outside the system with VoteHope2008. I am doing it because I believe it is important. I consider myself one of the good guys and I think we can do GOOD within the PAC framework. Whoever we might be rooting for in the primary, it behooves us to bring as many new voters into the process as is humanly possible. 2008 is just too important ... I believe that we must secure a Democratic victory in the White House and build our majorities in the House and Senate if we have any hope of setting this country on the right course.

I am not keeping company with the Swift Boat Veterans or any group that would besmirch a person's name and integrity. Not all PAC/527's are created with mal-intent. That being said, maybe if we elect some more officials with true spine and vision like the we can expand McCain/Feingold and do away with all of this nonsense and get big money out of politics altogether. Until that day I will do my best to raise it and use it to achieve that end. A paradox to be sure, but then again this is politics we are talking about ... A paradox indeed.