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Alliance aims to boost election-year clout with PAC

Christina Rogers covers VW and regulatory/legislative issues for Automotive News.

DETROIT -- The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers is bulking up on political muscle just in time for the 2012 general election.

The trade group, which represents 12 automakers including the Detroit 3, Volkswagen and Toyota, is setting up a political action committee, spokeswoman Gloria Bergquist said.

The alliance's board voted this week to establish the PAC, which will collect donations from staff members and employees of member automakers and distribute the money to political campaigns. Contributions to the PAC are limited to $5,000 per person.

Next, the alliance must file the appropriate paperwork, which can take as long as a month, Bergquist said. The alliance hopes to have the PAC finalized by May.

The alliance already plays a big role in influencing auto industry-related policy decisions in Washington. But Bergquist said the PAC will amplify the group's political voice.

Many other transportation-related groups have PACs, she said. Alliance CEO Mitch Bainwol, formerly of head of the Recording Industry Association of America, suggested the group have its own PAC and the board agreed, Bergquist said.

"PACs are another way of participating in the democratic process," she said.

Bergquist said the PAC will be up and running before the election in November, but as of now, the group hasn't discussed which candidates -- presidential or otherwise -- it plans to support.

Other auto industry groups, such as the National Automobile Dealers Association, aren't afraid to wield political clout through PACs.

In the 2012 election cycle, NADA's PAC has doled out close to $1 million to federal candidates, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a watchdog nonprofit that tracks campaign contributions.

Of that money, about 72 percent went to Republicans, the nonprofit's Web site, opensecrets.org, reported.

General Motors and Ford Motor Co. also have PACs and are considered "heavy hitters" by the Center for Responsive Politics, meaning they're among the 140 biggest donors overall to federal election campaigns.

NADA, which represents 16,000 new-car and truck dealers, also carries the "heavy hitter" distinction, according to opensecrets.org.

Needless to say, a lot of auto industry money is being funneled into Washington. What's a little bit more?

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