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During the 2011-12 election cycle, associations were extremely active, spending and donating millions of dollars. The top- 100 association political action committees contributed a combined total of nearly $114 million to candidate campaigns, leadership PACs and party committees.
Leading the way was the National Association of Realtors, which contributed almost $4.8 million to political committees during the cycle. The top-five contributors – realtors, beer wholesalers, auto dealers, bankers and trial lawyers – all contributed more than $3 million. Of the top-20 association PACs, 25 percent were re- lated to the health industry, led by the American Association of Orthopedic Surgeons.
While groups representing the realtors and auto dealers supported both parties, they tended to be far more generous to Republican candidates. In the past election cycle, the National Association of Realtors donated al- most $2.2 million to GOP federal candidates – a figure about $400,000 greater than its PAC donated to Democratic candidates. Contribution patterns by the National Automobile Dealers Association were even more pronounced. Over the past two years, NADA’s PAC gave $2.1 million to Republican candidates, but only $817,500 to Democrats.
Among the top association contributors to GOP candidates, four associations represent the financial and insurance industry and an- other four represent the medical industry. And the 15th top PAC contributor – the National Rifle Association – gave more than $877,000 to Republicans.
Democrats do not have as many supporters reaching this level of contribution among associations. In fact, only four association PACs gave more than $1 million to Democratic candidates and only one – the American Association of Justice – donated more than $2 million.
While these numbers seem large, they pale in comparison to the amounts spent electioneering by groups such as the U.S. Chamber. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the Chamber spent more than $36 million during the 2012 election, including over $4.4 million against victorious Virginia Senate candidate Tim Kaine. Only two of the 15 Senate races where the Chamber was active, however, saw winners backed by the business organization. In the House, the Chamber supported four winning candidates in the 22 races where it was active.
Feld is principal at PowerBase Associates, a political and legislative research firm based in Alexandria, Va. He can be reached at email@example.com or through the company website at www.powerbaseassociates.com.