Political action committees spend $10M on elections

Friday, March 13, 2015, Vol. 39, No. 11

NASHVILLE (AP) - Tennessee Registry of Election Finance reports show political action committees spent more than $10 million to influence elections of candidates for office last year.

The Knoxville News Sentinel (http://bit.ly/1Bq28A0) cited the data in reporting that direct donations had decreased from the last election year in 2012 and "independent expenditures" increased.

Combined spending, which includes direct donations and independent efforts, was nearly equal in 2012 and 2014.

The 2012 total of $10,189,255 set a record. The total last year was $10,118,043, a difference of about $70,000.

In general, spending by PACs has increased each election year since officials began keeping records in 1996.

The PAC set up by the Tennessee Education Association spent the most in direct contributions to candidates while the Tennessee Forum had the most independent expenditures.

Dick Williams, president of Common Cause in Tenn essee and advocate of expanded disclosure in campaign finance, said PACS may increasingly perceive direct donations as less effective in electing or defeating a candidate than independent expenditures that often come in the form of attack advertising.

There also seems to be a trend toward advocacy groups spending their money in ways to avoid disclosure, by setting up a nonprofit and running ads that could be deemed educational and not political, thereby not requiring reporting, he said.

Traditional PACs, Williams said, are "a little more responsible" in that they report what they are doing and where their money comes from.

"There's a trend toward more spending that is less disclosed . or, maybe, what a lot of the public considers as sleazy," he said.