Alabama Senate committee approves bill allowing PAC donations to political parties

By: - May 11, 2023 7:01 am
A man in mid-sentence.

Sen. Sam Givhan, R-Huntsville, speaks to a colleague on March 7, 2023. Legislators gathered Tuesday for the first day of the Alabama Legislature’s 2023 regular session. (Brian Lyman/Alabama Reflector)

State political parties could soon receive donations from outside groups under a bill that passed an Alabama Senate committee Wednesday.

The Senate State Governmental Affairs Committee voted to approve SB 289, sponsored by Sen. Sam Givhan, R-Gurley, which would allow political action committees (PACs) to contribute money to political parties.

“We don’t want to go back to the days when all this money is clouded, you can’t figure out where this money is coming from, but once it gets to the Democratic Party or the Republican Party, I am not really concerned whether the Madison County Republican Party gives to the state party, or the Jefferson County Democratic Party gives to the state Democratic Party,” Givhan said.


Experts said the legislation could give the state parties more resources to build infrastructure, and potentially more influence over candidates.

“The main impact that might happen is that it might give party leadership a little bit more control, and prevent candidates from freelancing,” said Nathaniel Swigger, an associate professor of political science at Ohio State University.

The Alabama Legislature in 2010 banned political action committees from giving money to one another. Prior to the ban, politicians and political operatives had often moved money through different PACs to hide the source of donations.

Political parties are considered political action committees under Alabama law.

Just how much this will have an impact on elections moving forward is unclear, according to academics who study campaign finance rules. Swigger said campaign money is most helpful in launching a campaign but shows diminishing returns over time.

“The main effect honestly, of PAC money, and of increasing money in campaigns, has been to help political consultants make a living,” Swigger said.

Swigger said Givhan’s bill could affect the relationship between the party and the candidate. It could conceivably allow state parties to direct more money to preferred candidates and have more sway over them.

It could also influence the relative strengths of the two central parties in the state relative to one another. Money allows political parties to build an infrastructure to win elections by enhancing recruitment efforts and improving voter registration databases, which could help their candidates for office.

Swigger said that “weirdly, the main beneficiary might be the Democratic Party in Alabama.”

“The Democratic Party in Alabama will now have access to PAC funds from other places,” Swigger said. “They have been out of power for so long that their fundraising sources within Alabama, and Alabama political sources are going to be pretty weak. People don’t give money to people who lose.”

That was a concern raised by Patrick McWilliams, the vice chairman of the Baldwin County Republican Party.

“You have to be careful with it,” he said. “PAC money that is going to go towards a political candidate I think is good, but what I don’t like is when you have out-of-state PACs come in that you know nothing about that will support a candidate and start running negative ad campaigns against another candidate.”

McWilliams said that could make party primaries more bitter.

“It turns into a mudslinging match,” McWilliams said. “That is not what we are about as far as Republicans are concerned.”

John Wahl, the chairman of the Alabama Republican Party, said the bill could help both parties build infrastructure.


“It can be very frustrating for both Republican and Democratic state parties when they can’t help a county party that needs assistance,” he said. “It is also frustrating for women’s organizations and political clubs for young people that can’t purchase a table at a party function.”

Currently sharing resources can be difficult because political parties in Alabama are considered political action committees.

Tabitha Isner, the vice-chair of the Alabama Democratic Party, said she thought that was the wrong approach.

“This seems like the wrong direction to head,” she said. “What she should be talking about is limiting campaign contributions per candidate each cycle to make democracy more democratic.”

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Ralph Chapoco
Ralph Chapoco

Ralph Chapoco covers state politics as a senior reporter for States Newsroom. His main responsibility is the criminal justice system in Alabama.