Which Massachusetts Members of Congress Rely Most on PACs?

The campaign fundraising reports from the first quarter are in.

One of the perks of being a member of Congress—especially if you are safely ensconced in a partisan district, and thus likely stay in office and keep rising in power—is that political action committees (PACs) are happy to throw money into your campaign committee. PACs can really help build up a war chest without the inconvenience of calling individual donors or schmoozing them at fundraising events.

The quantity of those contributions may soon increase dramatically, thanks to a Supreme Court ruling earlier this month. In McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, the court struck down aggregate contribution limits. The ruling’s effect on direct campaign contributions has gotten more attention, but there could be a bigger impact on PACs: individuals may still give only $5,000 to any one federal PAC in a two-year cycle, but they are no longer bound by the $48,600 cap on their total contributions to federal PACs in one cycle.

In short: wealthy people can cut $5,000 checks to as many PACs as they want, which should mean a lot more funding for PACs (and a lot more of them), which in turn means a lot more PAC contributions to candidates.

With that in mind, and with new Congressional campaign fundraising reports in for the first three months of 2014, it’s worth looking at which Massachusetts members of Congress rely most on PAC contributions:

MemberQ1 2014 Total RaisedQ1 2014 From PACsQ1 2014 % From PACsCycle Total RaisedCycle from PACsCycle % From PACs
Richard Neal$124,765$112,45692%$979,921$834,47885%
Jim McGovern$94,807$17,25029%$561,586$219,85039%
Niki Tsongas$134,125$46,60035%$670,764$174,92526%
Joe Kennedy$299,029$25,9509%$1,656,994$276,74017%
Katherine Clark$181,155$44,00024%$201,730$57,96029%
John Tierney$348,256$145,00048%$1,323,010$599,36645%
Mike Capuano$61,035$58,00095%$341,544$290,75485%
Stephen Lynch$57,785$57,785100%$252,959$166,58566%
Bill Keating$169,889$89,00052%$507,323$320,73263%

Only three of those candidates currently have a 2014 opponent to worry about. John Tierney, who faces two primary challengers in addition to Republican Richard Tisei, has been raising money aggressively, with nearly half of his $1.3 million for the cycle coming from PACs. Bill Keating will face one of four Republicans running in their primary; nearly two-thirds of his funds have come from PACs. Niki Tsongas faces a more perfunctory Republican challenge, but is wisely raising aggressively to defend her moderate district now and into the future, mostly from individuals.

Tsongas, with relatively little seniority in Congress, is also less of an appealing target for PAC funding (especially without a serious re-election challenge). The same is true for Joe Kennedy and Katherine Clark, although Kennedy clearly has no trouble more than making up for that in individual contributions.

By contrast, Richard Neal of Western Massachusetts—who holds a powerful seat on the Ways and Means Committee—has compiled a war chest of more than $2 million almost entirely from PAC money. Jim McGovern, despite being too liberal for most of the business-funded groups, gets a decent amount from PACs. Mike Capuano, who spent much of 2013 deciding whether to run for Governor, has raised little from individuals but a good sum from PACs. Stephen Lynch’s heavy percentage dependence on PAC contributions this cycle might be an anomaly, as he might not want to hit up individual donors so soon after begging them to fund his 2013 US Senate campaign.

I have not included challengers here, but most of them have raised little or nothing from PACs so far as is typical for those taking on incumbents. Tisei is the only exception, and even he has raised just 10 percent of his money this cycle ($60,610) from PACs.

The natural PAC bias toward incumbents over challengers could be greatly exacerbated—regardless of party—under the new post-McCutcheon rules. I’ll check back in on the numbers later this year to see whether that happens.