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Political Action Committee
The Human Rights Campaign plays a lead role in placing LGBT-related issues where they belong – in the mainstream of American politics. Most importantly, HRC makes financial and in-kind contributions to candidates vying for seats in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives during the election season. HRC’s non-partisan political action committee makes such contributions directly to candidates. Using a specific set of carefully developed criteria, HRC PAC taps those candidates who have a solid history of support for lesbian and gay equality in a number of areas, including hate crimes prevention, employment non-discrimination and HIV/AIDS care, treatment, prevention and research. Another factor the HRC PAC considers when choosing candidates is whether their contests will be close. In addition to financial contributions, HRC PAC also helps organize fund-raisers and generates volunteers for the races.
Through HRC PAC, HRC staff members provide candidates with critical advice on organizing, fund raising and winning elections. HRC staff members also work on targeted races to assist candidates in their elections. The staff members, along with members of HRC’s Action Network, are also responsible for organizing and coordinating volunteer efforts of other HRC members in local congressional or Senate campaigns targeted by HRC. And Action Network members educate federal lawmakers during their visits to their home districts on issues affecting their lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender constituents.
Political Action Committee Criteria
The Endorsement Process
The following components make up the criteria for determination of whether the Human Rights Campaign will endorse a candidate: support for issues of concern to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community; (2) demonstrated leadership on HRC’s issues and (3) viability.
(1) Support for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality
HRC undertakes an in-depth interview with each candidate. While some political action committees send out questionnaires, HRC’s face-to-face interviews allow the organization to educate candidates on issues that affect the LGBT community, as well as gauge their level of support. In place of an interview, an incumbent’s support for issues of concern to the community is based on his or her voting record. Candidates are assessed on the following issues: employment non-discrimination, hate crimes, military, marriage, domestic partner benefits, adoption and other family issues, HIV/AIDS, lesbian health, abortion rights and others as they arise.
Further, in October 2003, the HRC Board of Directors adopted the following policy: "The Human Rights Campaign PAC will place its highest priority with candidates who stand with the LGBT community and oppose any attempt to deny recognition to same-sex partners and their families. In particular, HRC PAC will only support candidates who would vote to protect the U.S. Constitution from amendments that would discriminate against GLBT individuals or couples."
(2) Demonstrated leadership
HRC makes a specific assessment of candidate’s actions that show leadership by: a) encouraging other policy-makers to act on HRC’s agenda, and b) developing active rapport with, and understanding of, the local LGBT community.
The interview and/or analysis includes an in-depth review of the campaign and the candidate’s plan for winning the election. HRC’s review includes gathering information on polling, fund-raising, endorsements the candidate has won, previous political experience, the campaign plan, staffing and consultants.
HRC analyzes the information provided by the campaign and consulting with others including the political parties, competing candidates, local and national PACs, and local HRC members. It then analyzes whether the candidate meets the criteria for endorsement. If no endorsement is made, HRC continues to monitor the race as Election Day approaches to determine if an endorsement is warranted at a later time.
When HRC believes a candidate should receive its endorsement and financial contribution, HRC makes a written recommendation to the public policy committees and to the executive director.
Important Points in the Endorsement Process
The process by which HRC makes endorsements is rigorous. However, two aspects in the process related to incumbent preference and single-candidate endorsements are worth special note:
- HRC favors incumbency and when an elected official in a particular seat works consistently on behalf of LGBT Americans, HRC rewards that loyalty; and
- HRC does not favor dual endorsements, except in the rarest of circumstances. It prefers instead to make the hard choices, even when the record and official position of more than one candidate are exemplary. These strategies (and HRC’s support for them) have been tested over the years and have served HRC well.
Challengers/Open Seat Races
In situations where the incumbent is not supportive of HRC’s issues, or is in an open seat, HRC will make an endorsement and contribution to a candidate that meets HRC’s basic criteria of support for HRC’s issues and is viable. HRC gauges support for LGBT issues through the interview process, examination of prior support on related issues, and consultation with organizations and HRC members in the candidate’s state or district.
In certain races, by majority vote, the HRC public policy committee may designate an electoral contest for deeper analysis. Such designation may occur when a race is deemed controversial or where a deeper level of community input is warranted. In such cases, HRC will take extra steps to seek out the points of view of local members and, as appropriate, community leaders. As determined by the public policy committee, a variety of actions may be taken to do this, including but not limited to small and larger meetings, special mailings and outreach to allied groups.
In such identified controversial contests, a dual endorsement may be considered. However, to emphasize the HRC board’s intention to avoid dual endorsements — except in the rarest of situations, such action will require the majority vote of the public policy committee, the executive committee and the full board, in that order.
An endorsement from HRC comes with a PAC contribution. (The only exception to this is when candidates do not accept PAC money.) HRC does not make endorsements in races where HRC would not make a contribution. For example, the organization does not make an endorsement in a situation where the candidate has no chance of getting elected but is supportive of HRC issues and wants to add HRC’s name as an endorser. This serves to maintain the value of HRC’s endorsement by not watering down the respected reputation of the organization by endorsing anyone regardless of his or her viability.