Since the late ’60s American business has consolidated its organizational structure so as to vastly increase its political and economic power. A recent Fortune magazine article, entitled “Business is Learning How to Win in Washington,” detailing many such changes, opens with a conversation between two lobbyists for the Business Roundtable on how to defeat the Consumer Protection bill:
Just a few blocks from the White House, in Room 811 of one of Washington’s least memorable office buildings, this conversation is going on between two men, one of whom is holding a list of congressmen in his hand:
“Henry Gonzalez of San Antonio . . . should we use Sears? We have problems with Jake Pickle on this, I’m not sure we can get him . . . OK, let’s ask Sears about Gonzalez. . . Delaney of Long Island … well, Delaney’s a character still he was helpful as chairman of the Rules Commitee. . . . Bristol-Myers is close to Delaney, let Bill Greif handle that. . . .
“Gaydos of Pennsylvania . . . ask Alcoa if they’ll do it, John Harper was very enthusiastic about this one. . . . Hatfield of Continental could do it but I hate to ask him. . . . Marks of Sharon, Pennsylvania .. . ask Ferguson of General Foods to call Kirby of Westinghouse about Marks. .
“Gore of Tennessee . . . Carrier Corp. and TR W. . . do we really have a chance with Gore? We really think we do? Ask Lloyd Hand of TRW. . . Let’s be careful . . . but if we haven’t done our job by now .. .but we have, we’ve got the votes and we know it.”
The secret weapon of this new corporate campaign is the corporate Political Action Committee (PAC). The 1975 election laws permitted enterprises to solicit management for funds and then to donate up to $5,000 to a political candidate. After the resolution of the Sun Oil case, which clarified how executives may be solicited, the use of PACs by corporations has skyrocketed. Today there are more than 1,000 PACs compared to 139 in 1974. The total net worth of corporate, trade association and right-wing PACs is $54 million, in contrast to $13 million for labor.
The ultra right has entered the PAC arena in a major way and now controls more than $6.5million in PAC funds. These include the nation’s three largest PACs: Ronald Reagan’s Citizens for the Republic ($2.1 million), National Conservative PAC ($2 million), and the Committee for Survival of a Free Congress ($1.5 million). Experts anticipate huge increases in probusiness PACs.