Nearly a dozen 2020 Democratic Senate candidates who have sworn off corporate PAC money have found a workaround: They are accepting cash from allied PACs that are free to accept corporate-linked contributions.
Thanks to the loophole, the Democrats have together received at least $1.6 million from committees that receive money from corporate PACs, according to a Washington Free Beacon review. Corporations establish PACs because they are barred from sending company money to political campaigns. The PACs are instead funded by employees at the corporation.
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Every Democratic Senate candidate endorsed by the End Citizens United PAC, a liberal group that decries the influence of corporate PAC money, has received contributions from Democratic leadership PACs that are heavily financed by corporate PACs. The End Citizens United PAC has endorsed 11 Senate candidates and has transferred at least $50,000 to 9 of those candidates for the 2020 election cycle. None of the campaigns responded to a Nov. 25 request for comment.
For example, Iowa Democrat Theresa Greenfield, who is seeking to unseat Sen. Joni Ernst (R.), said in September that she would not accept money from corporate PACs. Despite this promise, her campaign has received $156,500 in funds from 25 Democratic leadership PACs that have taken money from PACs associated with big corporations. The Impact PAC, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer's leadership PAC, is one such group that has given money to Greenfield. Schumer's PAC has received more than $200,000 from Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, Facebook, Altria, Google, and Humana's PACs.
Democrat Mark Kelly, who is challenging Sen. Martha McSally (R., Ariz.), has also benefited from corporate PACs despite trumpeting refusal to accept their money. Kelly has received $127,500 from 24 leadership PACs that take money from corporate PACs. Blue Hen PAC, which is affiliated with Sen. Chris Coons (D., Del.), has given $7,500 to Kelly's campaign and is funded by Google, Microsoft, Comcast, and AT&T's PACs.
Four of the incumbent senators endorsed by End Citizens United have their own leadership PACs that have taken between $8,500 and $163,900 from corporate PACs: Doug Jones's (D., Ala.) Seeking Justice Committee PAC has raised $46,500; Gary Peters's (D., Mich.) Motor City PAC has raised $163,900; Jeanne Shaheen's (D., N.H.) A New Direction PAC raised $48,500; and Tina Smith's (D., Minn.) Velvet Hammer PAC raised $8,500 from corporate PACs.
Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D., N.M.), who is now running for the Senate, has also brought in $19,500 to his Turquoise PAC from such entities.
Three incumbent senators, who have been critical of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision that loosened campaign finance restrictions on unions and corporations, each took more than $200,000 from at least 29 committees funded by corporate PACs. Peters took $236,600, Smith took $218,500, Shaheen took $207,100, and Jones received $198,100 from PACs funded by corporate PACs.
Adam Bozzi, vice president of communications for End Citizens United, told the Free Beacon that the group is "proud to have endorsed" the 11 candidates and doesn't view the contributions from corporate-funded leadership PACs as a violation of its pledge.
"These candidates, unlike their Republican opponents, have taken the pledge and met its requirements," Bozzi said. "ECU is proud to have endorsed them because they will end the corrupting influence of big money in our politics, while their opponents have defended the rigged system."
Politifact, a fact-checking website, last week targeted North Carolina Senate candidate Cal Cunningham (D., N.C.) over a July tweet in which he promised not to be beholden by special interests or accept any corporate PAC money. The tweet was rated "mostly false" because "he has accepted money from PACs that do accept money from big corporations." End Citizens United called Cunningham a "champion for [campaign finance] reform" last month. Cunningham has received $115,000 from leadership PACs that take corporate-linked cash.