Have you seen any campaign commercials on TV or online, often showing a certain candidate’s terrible political decisions and their hatred of America? Of course you have. Chances are, those ads you saw were created and distributed by a Political Action Committee, or PAC. These groups have been around since 1947, when Congress prohibited labor unions and corporations from spending money on elections and candidates. Since they could no longer directly influence elections, unions and big businesses ultimately created a separate fund, which pooled individual contributions, and labeled it a political action committee.
So who can establish a PAC, and, more importantly, how are they used in politics today? In previous years, large businesses and corporations created PACs in order to best represent the needs and interests of their employees. This idea has expanded to allow any group of people with a common interest or ideology to start a PAC. The idea behind starting a PAC is to more easily gather funds from many people and use their pooled money for a single purpose.
PACs are highly regulated entities, as they have direct control of how voluntary contributions are spent. A typical political action committee can contribute $5,000 to a single candidate or his/her campaign in one calendar year, and can contribute up to $15,000 towards a federal campaign. However, individual contributions to the PAC itself cannot exceed $5,000, though there is no cap on how much money the PAC can receive in total. Sounds pretty easy, right? PACs can solicit donations from their interested constituents, pool that money together, and contribute to candidates who represent their best interests. With high regulations on PACs, the use of limited funds on candidate elections was not as controversial. Now, however, the rise of Super PACs has created a much bigger rift between those who want to freely express themselves financially, and those who want money in politics to remain regulated.
The term “Super PAC” first began in 2010, following the controversial Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling in 2010. This case, ultimately favoring Citizens United by the Supreme Court, determined corporations could fund “electioneering campaigns,” as this is an expression of free speech under the First Amendment. A separate ruling, SpeechNow.org v. Federal Election Commission, led to a ruling that it is unconstitutional to limited the amount of money an individual can contribute to “independent expenditure groups,” aka Super PACs.
Perhaps the most significant difference between a PAC and Super PAC is where they can legally contribute politically. As described above, a typical PAC can contribute a maximum amount of money directly to a candidate and their campaign. However, a Super PAC cannot contribute funds to any candidate or campaign. Instead, they can create commercials, distribute information, or donate to other PACs in order to influence the public’s decision making. All well and good, until you realize Super PACs have no limit on how much money they can contribute. None at all. In theory (and in reality), this means PACs with affluent individual donors can then distribute thousands, hundreds of thousands, even MILLIONS of dollars, in order to influence our decisions when Voting Day arrives. If you have heard of Super PACs on the news, you probably heard about the Koch Brothers in the same story. These brothers, both worth billions, are huge donors to Republican causes. In fact, for the 2016 Presidential elections, the Koch’s are budgeting $889,000,000 for political ads and electioneering activities. Unless you’re a billionaire (and if you’re a PT you probably are not), this is just an absurd amount of money. But that’s the name of the game in our current political climate when Super PACs are involved.
So what does all of this have to do with physical therapy? Well, if you know me or have read my blog in the past, I have a lot of strong opinions in regards to politics. However, I think this topic needs to be looked at from a broad perspective, rather than getting buried in partisanship, numbers and data.
Right now, physical therapy has one political action committee, the PTPAC, which raises funds and promotes PT legislation on our behalf. In 2014, the PT PAC contributed $1,261,590 to candidates running in midterm elections. Where did that money come from? Well, over $1,259,000 came from other PACs, meaning individual donations to the PTPAC totaled $1,250. If we really want meaningful changes to the Medicare Therapy Cap, increased reimbursement from insurance companies, and more autonomy in practice, we need to contribute MUCH more to the PAC. However, one issue limiting money flowing in from individual donors is the fact that the PTPAC only accepts money from current APTA members. Why? If the PAC represents our entire profession, should it really matter if we are members of the APTA? Considering the current levels of membership, the PAC is severely limiting potential donor sources within our own physical therapy crowd.
Based on all this information, should we form a Physical Therapy Super PAC? This would allow physical therapists to contribute any amount of money, regardless of APTA membership, towards efforts to get PT-friendly candidates into office. This can be on a state and/or federal level. Those states that are very restricted in what they can practice (Gr V mobilizations, dry needling, direct access, etc), a Super PAC can focus money on commercials and electioneering materials for that state, in an effort to change these restricting practice acts.
Unfortunately, money is the oil that runs the political machine, so why not join in and maximize our presence and influence in politics at all levels? Many state APTA chapters hold several fundraisers to increase spending ability on lobbying efforts and political influence in their respective Capitol, but with a Super PAC supporting these states, they would potentially have exponentially more funds to help with their efforts. Granted, this money could not be directly contributed to candidates the way our PTPAC can. But, having less restrictions on where and how much money a Super PAC receives can easily dwarf the current PTPAC spending, truly making physical therapy a force in the political sphere.
Of course, the current PTPAC can remove their restriction on funding sources by including non-APTA member physical therapists. Honestly, this restriction doesn’t make sense to me in the first place. Having more money flowing to the PTPAC may be better for physical therapy efforts, at least until PT becomes more “mainstream” in political healthcare talks. For now though, I believe we need to have a serious discussion on the current capacity of the PTPAC, and consider starting a Super PAC to make physical therapy a large, influential political force in healthcare talks that are sure to come in the future.
What do you think? This would have to be a large undertaking by the vast majority of physical therapists, but I think we can all come together if it means benefiting the profession we all love. If you want to talk more, find me on twitter @tylerspt, or comment here!