The Pros and Cons of Starting Your Own Political Action Committee

Joe Garecht

Have you ever thought about starting your own political action committee (PAC)? If you have, you’re not alone. I often get questions about PACs, how to start them, and the pros and cons of running one. (If you’re not sure what a political action committee is, read Local Victory’s What are PACs? )

Today, we’re going to take a look at 5 pros and 5 cons of starting your own political action committee. Before we get to the list, remember the following two important points about starting a PAC:

1. There are different rules for state and federal PACs. Generally, if you want to support candidates running for federal office, you’ll have to start a federal PAC. If you want to support candidates running for local and state office, you’ll have to start a state PAC.

2. Political action committees are highly regulated. Before you begin, check with your state elections  / secretary of state’s office (for state PACs) or the Federal Election Commission (for federal PACs) and check on the rules, regulations, and reporting requirements that apply for committee you are thinking of starting. You should also talk with a qualified elections lawyer in your area for guidance.

Ok, on to the lists:

The Pros of Starting Your Own PAC

1. You Get to Set the Scope – PACs can exist to support candidates of one ideology or many and in a local area or across the country. They can be issues-based or more open, party-centric or party-blind, making large contributions or small. In short, your PAC can be what you make it to be.

2. PACs are Long Lasting – Unlike traditional campaigns, a political action committee is generally in existence for much longer than one cycle. This means that you can build an organization and donor structure within your PAC that lasts.

3. You Can Get Lots of People Involved – Political action committees have the power to get lots of people involved and become a real movement. They can have huge networks of leaders (but don’t have to) and can have grassroots as well as fundraising components.  Starting a PAC is a great way to make the organization you are starting bigger than just you.

4. They Allow You to Think Big – Trying to make your mark on a specific issue, or in a specific area, as an independent operator may seem like a daunting task. The vastness of the political universe may cause you to think “small” about what you are trying to accomplish. Often, starting a political action committee will allow you to think “big,” because you know you can build an organization to help you accomplish your goals.

5. PACs Give You a Place at the Table – The leaders of large, mid-sized, and even some smaller PACs have a great deal of clout. If you’re looking to make a difference, you need a place at the table. Often, leading a political action committee will give you that place.

The Cons of Starting Your Own PAC

1. Rules, Rules, Rules – Political action committees are just as highly regulated as political campaigns, if not more so. If you start one, you’ll need to dot your i’ and cross your t’s… you’ll have to file lots of paperwork, keep lots of records, file regular reports, and more. And the worst part is, every state has its own rules and regulations.

2. It’s Hard to Build Traction – The political landscape is littered with hundreds of political action committees that couldn’t build traction, that were started, sputtered, and then abandoned. Building a successful PAC is just as hard as building a successful business, without the financial gain. Be prepared to work hard.

3. You’ve Got to Do a Lot of Fundraising – Money is the lifeblood of a political action committee. In order for your PAC to be successful, you’re going to have to do a lot of fundraising, starting with your own friends, family, and colleagues. That means lots of time on the phone, at meetings, and at events.  PACs need a strong fundraising network in order to thrive.

4. It’s Easy to Burn Out – One of the greatest strengths of PACs is that they last from year to year, election cycle to election cycle. Unfortunately, that also means it’s easy to burn out… There’s something unsettling about waking up the day after Election Day and realizing you’ve got to start fundraising for the next cycle already.

5. Staying Relevant – Year after year, if your organization doesn’t stay relevant, your donors will stop giving. If your donors stop giving, your political action committee will wither and die. The solution to this problem is eternal (and tiring) vigilance. Your PAC must stay relevant in order to thrive.

There you have them – the pros and cons of starting a political action committee. Should you start one? That depends on your ultimate goals, and your willingness to work hard and follow the rules. That being said, those who have pushed through and created living, breathing organizations that make a real difference on the political landscape would tell you that the results are well worth the effort.



(7/20/2017 @Kai)

(1) 501(c)(3)
(2) 501(c)(4)
(3) PAC (political action committee)
(4) do nothing (unincorporated association)

501(c)(3) 好处是组织收入不交税,捐款人可以省税。缺点是严格不许参加竞选或者任何方式帮助 candidates running for offices。可以有小比例的,issue-based political activities or even lobbying。比如这个华人左派支持 AA 的组织就是 501(c)(3)

上次加州 AB1726 就有这个华人组织在背后支持 (见一下图片

501(c)(4) 不能 tax deductible for donations,但组织不用交税,可以 political campaigning

PAC 有更严格的法律管制,overhead 很高。

unincorporated association 最省事,但麻烦是  potentially liability 会直接落在组织的成员上。 501(c)(3) / (c)(4) 都是 corporation, 所以把个人 liability 隔离

我们几年前研究了很久。 PAC 最不现实,那是给有大金主的组织玩的,cost 最高。有些组织是一个 (c)(3) 加一个 (c)(4),基本同一套人马 (应该不要完全一样),两块牌子,这样既有 maximum tax benefits,又可以比较放心参与政治,前提是两个组织运作特别和钱有关的要小心分开,不要给 IRS 把柄。

我们是 一个 (c)(3),一个 unincorporated association,算是一种折中