Vol. 2, No. 3, 1979, pp. 26
Alarmed by the enormous amounts of money that Political Action Committees (PACs) are contributing to campaigns, a majority of the members of the U.S. House of Representatives took a first step in October to limit the funds that PACs can contribute to House candidates.
In a 217-198 vote House members decided to limit the “arms race. . . of campaign dollars . . . .” in approving an amendment sponsored by Dem. David Obey of Wisconsin and Rep. Tom Railsback of Illinois. The amendment which applies only to the lower house of Congress would prohibit House candidates from receiving more than $70,000 from any or all PACs in any two-year period preceding an election.
PACs are often the political units of labor, business, or professional associations that presently can contribute any amount of money to any candidates for the U.S. House or Senate. A study by the Federal Elections Commission in 1978 showed that labor, corporate and trade association PACs gave almost three times as much money to incumbents as they did challengers. In 1978 almost 25 percent of all funds contributed to House candidates – nearly $23,000,000 came from PACs.
The Congressional Quarterly reported that 13 representatives in the South would be directly affected by the limit since in the last election they received more than the proposed limit of $70,000 from PACs (see chart below). Six of these House members are from Texas and four from Louisiana and Tennessee. Of the thirteen, five voted for the limit. They were Jim Wright (Texas), Bob Eckhardt (Texas), Claude Pepper (Florida), Jim Mattox (Texas), and Gillis Long (Louisiana).
Southern House members as a whole, however, overwhelmingly opposed the limit on PAC contributions. Of the 108 House members from the 11 Southern states, 76 opposed the Obey amendment; 30 supported it; and two members from Louisiana didn’t vote. Only in Tennessee and Florida did a majority of the state’s House members support the limit. Four of eight Tennessee representatives and eight of fifteen Florida House members voted “yea”. No House member from Mississippi or Arkansas supported the limit.
As a matter of fact, Southern Congressional delegations provided the bulk of opposition to the limit on contributions. Almost 40 percent of all the “nay” votes against the limit came from the South and more than 90 percent of all the Democrats opposing the changes were Southerners.
A list of the 30 Southern representatives who did support the Obey amendment follows:
Southern Representatives Supporting the Obey Amendment to the Federal Elections Campaign Act.