Contributions to the campaign war chests of Republican Party politicians who hold contemptuous views of democracy are unsurprising from mega-corporations and right-wing billionaires. The top priority for these donors is to have their self-aggrandizing agenda front-and-center in the halls of Congress. So even when democracy itself is under attack, they’re going to place profits over people and bestow gifts on any candidate willing to do their bidding.
The American Psychological Association’s (APA) affiliated “Psychology PAC” certainly isn’t in the same boat when it comes to political giving. That’s some measure of good news. But a little research reveals that this PAC does have a history of making some highly questionable choices when it comes to deciding where to direct its financial resources.
As background, Psychology PAC is the political action committee of APA Services, Inc. (APASI). The APA and APASI are companion organizations; the former is a 501(c)(3) and the latter is a 501(c)(6). They have the same CEO and the same individuals serve as members of both boards of directors. All APA members are automatically members of APASI as well, and APASI’s bylaws specify that “The Corporation shall not undertake activities that may adversely affect the American Psychological Association.”
According to Psychology PAC, it solicits voluntary contributions from APA members and staff as a way for these donors to “participate in the democratic process.” More importantly, the PAC states that the donations it makes are “consistent with APA’s values and mission to benefit society” and that it fights for the APA’s priorities, including “for ending violence; for criminal justice; for promotion of social justice issues, and for the fight against bigotry and racism.”
These virtuous aspirations would seemingly eliminate donations to a broad swath of today’s politicians in Washington, D.C. Yet, as I wrote earlier this year, among the recipients of Psychology PAC dollars during Donald Trump’s presidency were eight GOP members of Congress who voted against certifying Joe Biden’s victory: Michael Burgess (Texas), Tom Cole (Oklahoma), Chuck Fleischmann (Tennessee), Morgan Griffith (Virginia), Markwayne Mullin (Oklahoma), Devin Nunes (California), Adrian Smith (Nebraska), and Jason Smith (Missouri). Along with colleagues, these lawmakers promoted baseless allegations of widespread voter fraud despite repeated court rulings that concluded otherwise. Such false accusations were the impetus behind the violent January 6th insurrection in which a mob of pro-Trump supporters stormed the Capitol Building, endangering lives, destroying property, and threatening the democratic process that Psychology PAC extols.
Following revelations about the financial contributions to these politicians, Psychology PAC wisely announced a pause in its political giving. In a January letter sent to PAC donors, Jennifer Kelly and Arthur Evans, Jr.—the president and CEO respectively of the APA—wrote that “Psychology PAC will pause decisions on donations to ensure your contributions do not support legislators who act against our democracy.” But less than three months later, Psychology PAC completed its “full review of political giving policies” and resumed making donations.
In an April follow-up letter to donors, Kelly and Evans explained that, for the remainder of 2021 only, the PAC would refrain from contributing to politicians who had voted against certifying the presidential election. They also wrote that future donations to all candidates would include consideration of their “shared commitment to the democratic process and APA’s Guiding Principles.” The letter doesn’t specify those guiding principles, but presumably they don’t differ significantly from the APA’s mission of “advancing psychology to benefit society and improve lives.”
But then how should we make sense of the PAC’s post-insurrection campaign donations to these four GOP House members: John Curtis (Utah), Darin LaHood (Illinois), Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Washington), and Bryan Steil (Wisconsin)? Why would Psychology PAC support their political aspirations, given their shared voting record?:
In February 2019, all four voted against the Bipartisan Background Checks Act, which would require background checks on all gun sales and strengthen background check procedures.
In June 2020, all four voted against the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which would change policing policies, including the banning of chokeholds and no-knock warrants, and make it easier to hold police accountable for racial profiling and other misconduct.
In February 2021, all four voted against the Equality Act, which would expand the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer individuals against discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.
In March 2021, all four voted against the For the People Act, which would curb efforts aimed at voter suppression, outlaw partisan gerrymandering of congressional districts, and make registering to vote and voting easier.
Also in March 2021, all four voted against the American Dream and Promise Act, which would grant permanent legal status and a path to citizenship to “dreamers” brought to the U.S. as children and facing potential deportation.
In August 2021, all four voted against the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would restore Justice Department review of changes in election law in states with a history of discrimination and make it more difficult for states to restrict future voting access.
Most recently, in September 2021, all four voted against the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would protect the right to access abortion care for providers and patients throughout the country by creating a safeguard against bans and medically unnecessary restrictions.
There’s no word-twisting that can align this abysmal, disqualifying voting record with either the APA’s mission to “benefit society and improve lives” or with Psychology PAC’s avowed commitment to the fight “for ending violence; for criminal justice; for promotion of social justice issues, and for the fight against bigotry and racism.”
To be clear, Psychology PAC is nonpartisan. Indeed, it tends to make more contributions to Democratic Party candidates than to Republican Party candidates. That makes good sense, given the issues that Psychology PAC publicly claims to care about. But nonpartisanship doesn’t require the PAC to achieve some sort of balance in its donations to members of both major political parties. And it doesn’t mean that the PAC should lower the standards it claims to uphold in order to find GOP candidates deemed worthy of support.
It’s worth noting that the contributions the PAC makes don’t appear to be listed on the Psychology PAC website; I found them through the website of the Federal Election Commission. I don’t know whether, or how often, PAC donors are informed about the specific recipients of their funding (and I haven’t yet received a response to my email inquiry to the PAC’s management team chair about this).
Since the APA promotes itself as the leading voice representing psychology in the United States, it seems important for Psychology PAC to explain to all members of the profession the precise rationale for its contributions to the candidates identified above. Do they somehow meet the PAC’s stated requirements? Given that today’s GOP has clearly become a virulent anti-democratic force, it’s hard to see how these donations can be justified. It isn’t complicated: Psychology PAC should do much better than support the political careers of individuals whose actions consistently increase the peril and disenfranchisement faced by the most vulnerable among us.