Last week, a group of influential women launched a new Political Action Committee called LPAC. Under the leadership of Chicago Cubs’ owner Laura Ricketts, the group will advocate for the rights of women and lesbians across a broad spectrum of issues including marriage equality, health care, and equal pay.
LPAC arrives on the scene at an important moment for both women’s rights advocates and the LGBT community. Marriage equality will be put to a vote in Washington, Maryland, Minnesota, and Maine this November. Debates across the country about women’s access to reproductive health care have brought increased awareness to the underrepresentation of women in public office.
LPAC will operate as a hybrid PAC, joining a growing list of organizations that have taken on this new structure. A product of Carey v. FEC (2011), the hybrid PAC combines the capabilities of regular PACs with those of Super PACs. Regular PACs can donate directly to candidates and are funded by individual donors giving up to $5,000 per person. Super PACs must do their campaigning independently of candidates, but they can accept unlimited funds from corporate or union donors. Hybrid PACs can do both; they just have to keep their money in two separate bank accounts.
At first glance, the introduction of the “hybrid PAC” structure may seem to exacerbate the problems of our campaign finance system, creating what some have called “super PACs.” But the emergence of LPAC and other hybrid PACs suggests that the loosening of restrictions on campaign donations really does facilitate free speech. It allows advocacy organizations to pursue their goals through multiple paths without facing the overhead costs of starting a separate PAC.
Spokesperson Sarah Schmidt explained that LPAC is a “value-based PAC” and, as such, has objectives that cross party lines and will endure long past the 2012 election cycle. She told current.com, “Beyond raising money and giving it away, our goal is to build a network of engaged lesbians who want to carry on the conversation going forward.” As a hybrid PAC, the organization has the flexibility it needs to pursue its goals in multiple ways without expending the high overhead costs of operating a separate Super PAC.
They have been successful so far. LPAC has already received over $200,000 in pledges and has the expressed support of powerful women such as actress Jane Lynch and former tennis star Billie Jean King. The group aims to raise $1 million for the 2012 election cycle. It has not yet announced all of the campaigns it will support in the 2012 election cycle, but there are several key battlegrounds already, including the four marriage equality ballots and the Wisconsin senatorial race. If successful, Wisconsin’s Democratic candidate, Tammy Baldwin, would be the first openly gay Senator.
LPAC is the first PAC to position itself specifically as an advocacy group for lesbian women, but it joins other organizations with similar policy goals. The Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund supports LGBT candidates, and EMILY’s List supports pro-choice Democratic women. Both are registered as hybrid PACs. But LPAC is the first PAC to position itself specifically as an advocacy group for lesbian women. Sarah Schmidt told rhrealitycheck.org, “After decades of being a small subset of players in both women’s rights and LGBT rights political efforts, with LPAC lesbians now have an organized way to engage in a significant way.”
This is why we need to think twice when we talk about restricting PACs and getting the money out of politics. Organizations like LPAC play a crucial role in amplifying the voices of minority communities. Any campaign finance law that gets in the way of this type of advocacy has gone too far.