By John Johnson
Perhaps no election cycle in recent memory will be as critical for the U.S. cotton industry as the one in 2010. The results of next year’s elections could have a direct impact on how cotton fares in the next farm bill debate as well as other issues that may arise before then. If the contentious 2008 farm bill process is any indication, cotton will need as many friends as it can muster.
In addition to every member of the U.S. House of Representatives, nine cotton-state senators will be up for re-election in 2010, and three additional senate seats will be vacated due to retirement. A number of these senators, from both political parties, played key rolls for cotton in the 2008 farm bill.
Voting and volunteering in candidates’ political campaigns are two ways cotton producers and other members of the cotton industry can participate in the political process. Another way is by making financial contributions to those campaigns, and one of the most effective means is pooling individual contributions through a political action committee (PAC). Fortunately, the U.S. cotton industry is represented by a well-established PAC.
Founded in 1975, the Committee for the Advancement of Cotton (CAC) receives contributions from approximately 500 industry members who voluntarily pool their resources to support candidates whose views and voting records are in step with cotton’s needs, according to CAC’s brochure. In recent years, those contributions have totaled $200,000 to $250,000 annually; however, CAC does not rank in the top 10 of all agricultural PACs.
Funding for campaigns has been a feature of the political process throughout U.S. history, but the cost to run a campaign has increased dramatically in recent years. According to CAC, the average cost of a House of Representatives campaign was just under $1 million and almost $2.5 million for a Senate seat in 2008. Laws governing PACs assure an honest and transparent way of raising money for these campaigns. Yet, campaign contributions do not guarantee an elected official will vote in support of cotton every time. They will, however, assure the cotton industry will have a chance to state its case.
CAC is sponsored by the National Cotton Council (NCC), and requests for financial support from individual candidates are reviewed by a steering committee. The committee is comprised of representatives of each segment of the U.S. cotton industry and NCC’s executive staff. Regulations limit PAC donations to $5,000 per candidate per election.
Federal law prohibits corporations from contributing money to a political action committee; however, individuals and partnerships can. In the case of a partnership, the names of the partners and their percentage of participation in the partnership must be provided. CAC also is required to maintain records showing the names and addresses of all contributors. If an individual’s contribution exceeds $200 during the calendar year, the records also must include the person’s occupation and principal place of business, and this information must be filed periodically with the Federal Election Commission.
Federal law also limits contributions by individuals and partnerships to PACs to $5,000 or less during a calendar year. These contributions are not tax deductible as charitable contributions for federal income tax purposes.