WASHINGTON — We live in an age of special interests.
If you don't believe it, take a look at the list of 4,033 political action committees that have filed with the Federal Election Commission to make campaign contributions in the current election season.
Ronald McDonald, the Maytag repairman, and Cap'n Crunch all have their own political action committees (PACs).
So do bowling alley owners, purse seine net fishermen, Tupperware salespeople, and Pakistani doctors.
Big-money PACs have long been criticized by campaign-finance-reform advocates who say they have too much power over the election process. But not all PACs have access to big money and not all are powerful. Some are simply a grass-roots reflection of the diverse concerns, hopes, and ideals of Americans.
Anyone can form a PAC.
The rules are that PACs may contribute up to $5,000 per candidate per election, or up to $15,000 a year to a political party.
Most PACs are tied to corporations or labor unions. Some are oriented toward individual candidates or political parties. Others are aimed at pushing a particular philosophy or issue.
They have sprung up in all regions of the country. There is a Gun Owners PAC in Peachtree City, Ga. Citizens Opposed to Political Egotists PAC is based in Las Vegas. And the Ban Income Tax Everywhere PAC is headquartered in Dousman, Wis.
The Conservative Order of Good Guys holds court in San Diego, where they have contributed $5,250 toward the election of Republicans to Congress. In Washington, D.C., the Council for a Livable World has contributed $47,944 to help Democrats regain control of the Senate.
Some PACs cover most of the major food groups. There is a turkey PAC, a pork PAC, a shrimp PAC, and a Tunaboat PAC. There is also an egg PAC, and an ice cream, milk, and cheese PAC. Organizers have also set up PACs to look out for the interests of oranges, pears, peaches, avocados, beets, figs, and tomatoes.
In California there is even something called the Raisin Bargaining Association PAC. You can bet they've staked out an iron-clad position on the school-lunch issue.
There are PACs that insist you must be a little nuts to win their support, including the Southwest Peanut PAC, the Western Pistachio Organization PAC, the California Almond Growers PAC, and the Walnut Growers PAC.
The Hollywood Women's PAC boasts a list of contributors who enjoy much higher name recognition than any of the candidates the group supports. Among the contributors and their contributions: Roseanne Arnold, $5,000; Rosanna Arquette, $3,000; Geena Davis, $3,000; Dana Delaney, $3,000; Faye Dunaway, $2,500; Jane Fonda, $1,500, Bonnie Raitt, $3,000; Cybill Shepherd, $1,500; and Barbra Streisand, $4,000.
The group raised more than $900,000 through June. The most recent FEC documents available show the PAC donated exclusively to Democratic candidates for the US Senate and House of Representatives.
In South Dakota, a mini version of the long-standing dispute between India and Pakistan is playing out through contributions made by two very different PACs.
Incumbent Republican Sen. Larry Pressler is facing Democratic Rep. Tim Johnson. Mr. Pressler, while a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, authored a measure that banned US arms sales to any country suspected of attempting to build a nuclear weapon. The provision killed a major arms deal between the US and Pakistan, a development that pleased many observers in neighboring India and angered most Pakistanis.
Some Indians apparently still remember. The American Association of Physicians from India PAC based in Washington has contributed $3,225 for Senator Pressler's reelection, according to FEC documents.
But Pakistanis remember, too. A PAC called Pakistani Physicians Public Affairs Committee based in Connecticut has contributed $10,000 to Mr. Johnson's campaign, documents show.
The Indian and Pakistani physicians may not agree in South Dakota, but they are of one mind in Iowa. They both support the reelection of Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin. The Indian physicians donated $2,500 for his re-election. The Pakistani physicians may take at least a small measure of delight in the fact that their $5,000 contribution was double that of their Indian counterparts.