To start simple, PACs are short for Political Action Committees. Limited to donations of $1,000 for state or local officials and $5,000 for federal offices, these aren’t the mega-million SuperPACs of Citizens United notoriety – we’ll talk about that another time. In classic political folklore, PACs are the financial glue that sticks your ordinary citizen to the political arena, substituting that sign that says ‘Vote For Nader’ with some cold hard bucks siphoned into the wallets of specific candidates, campaigns or ballot initiatives that share the same beliefs of said PAC.
And, now, it seems as if NYU could have one of its own.
If approved by the College of Arts and Science, a project started by CAS junior Taher Hassonjee will make New York University the first college in the country to ever have a PAC. Yes, a University-wide political fundraising machine in the school’s name that will gather donations to support agreed-upon officials running for some sort of governmental position. Aided by Professors Anna Harvey and Patrick Egan of the school’s Politics Department, Hassonjee came up with the idea after he took a semester off to fill a position as Deputy Finance Director of a Congressional campaign in Philadelphia. There, he discovered a top-down mantra of modern-day political strategy: money talks louder than… well, anything.
As a result, Hassonjee decided to bring this attitude back to Washington Square Park and, voila, the idea for NYU PAC was born.
“I want it to be whatever it is students believe,” Hassonjee told NYU Local. “What I hope for the organization is that students come together and, after discussing and debating, vote on their preferences for issues. Through this structure, NYU PAC will form a platform that will reflect the beliefs and values of our students. NYU PAC hopes to be a voice for students across the University.”
Once they’ve been accepted by CAS as a student club, the group plans to register with the federal government as a fully functional PAC. A few hot button issues raised at the informational seminars for the organization included gun control, same-sex marriage, tax policy and import/export policy.
Once the formal platform is democratically created, the PAC would then begin to raise funds.
But just where will that money come from, given the sense that NYU students have a hard time contributing just $18.31 to that 1831 Fund? Well, a couple of places:
- First and foremost, the club is planning to take a page from NYU Phonathon’s playbook and hit up the more generous alumni. What better way to give back to your alma mater than to participate in its quasi-political arm? And they have a ton of money, too. Case in point: the John A. Paulson Auditorium in Stern, where you’ve probably had the biggest lectures of your college career. Google him. Seriously.
- Second, Hassonjee suggested using public campaign contribution data that’s already available. This is the same data shared by campaigns to phone bank. Basically once you register to a party and donate, anyone can contact you and ask for your vote in an upcoming election. Or, in this case, a small contribution to NYU PAC.
- Third, the most obvious donator: you. If you’re willing, of course. At this point, who do you trust more? NYU or Karl Rove’s too-sketchy-for-words Crossroads GPS? The choice is literally yours.
- And, fourth, Hassonjee mentioned that the PAC would reach out to “those involved in the political process,” which could include bureaucrats, activists, community organizers or any other occupation that demands the word “civil government” on applicants’ resumes.
Once this pool of cash flow is gathered, the NYU PAC will research candidates at all levels of authority that are in line with the aforementioned platform. Another vote will then take place on whoever is chosen by the body politic. From there, make it rain.
From the surface, the PAC faces the disconcerting infringement of politics in academia. But Hassonjee reaffirmed the notion that the organization is NYU-based in name and members only: “While we are still awaiting CAS approval, NYU PAC does not plan to use University funds to make its campaign contributions… And I don’t believe that we are bringing the institution into politics any more than the College Democrats or Republicans. Similarly to these organizations, we are bringing a unique voice to the University, the voice of the students.”
In other words, if the College Democrats could stump for Obama, and the Republicans could campaign for Romney, then the members of NYU PAC could help elect the candidate of their choice. Going beyond that, Hassonjee hopes the PAC can teach students the damn truth about power in politics.
“NYU PAC hopes to teach students about fundraising, and its importance in today’s political environment,” he told NYU Local. “NYU students have interests too, and these interests should be heard and should have an impact on government. That is what NYU PAC hopes to accomplish.”
[Image via Mark Poprocki/Shuttershock.com]
Correction: In original version, it was stated that PACs can give $2,500 to federal candidates. Thanks to a tip from Maxwell Zorick, that number has been changed to $5,000.