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Virginia elections and the growing influence of PACs

One way to judge a candidate is how much money they've raised and spent.

In this year’s primary election, one political action committee has become a source of controversy for how it spent its money. And, another PAC has attracted attention because it was created to attack one candidate in a crowded field.

"PACs developed sort of in the middle of the 20th century as a way for corporations and unions to make campaign contributions," says Jennifer Victor, a political science professor at George Mason University’s Schar School.

"And then you've got the super PACs," Victor explains. "Which is an annoying name because they aren't really PACs at all because a super PAC is an organization designed to be able to gather unlimited funds and distribute those in ways that are not coordinated with candidates or campaigns"

One way or another, candidates usually need money to win. Wes Bellamy is a political science professor at Virginia State University, and he says money is often seen as a proxy for support.

"PACs are a really efficient way for candidates to be able to not only drum up resources – i.e., money – but also for a lot of constituents," Bellamy says. "When you have certain endorsements of certain PACs, it comes with their listservs, it comes with their supporters and it allows you to not only be able to broaden your message, but also show that you’re a serious candidate."

And the spending won't stop after the primary this month. The real campaign cash will start flowing this fall as the November general election approaches.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria.