WASHINGTON -- Import-brand auto dealers are creating a political action committee that will raise campaign money and donate it to favored candidates.
The board of the American International Automobile Dealers Association said Tuesday it is creating an in-house PAC. For the past 15 years, import-brand dealers have channeled campaign contributions through an independent committee, called Automotive Free International Trade, or AFIT-PAC.
AIADA says it wants to use its new PAC to improve its government relations in Washington.
AFIT-PAC Executive Director Mary Hanagan said Tuesday her organization plans to keep working to support candidates who favor free trade. It gives about $1 million to federal candidates in each two-year election cycle.
Campaign finance experts say the AIADA venture will compete directly for dealers' money with the political action committee of the National Automobile Dealers Association.
NADA's Dealers Election Action Committee, or DEAC, routinely distributes about $2.5 million from dealers to candidates during each two-year election cycle. It is one of the nation's biggest industrial PACs.
David Hyatt, NADA's COO for public affairs, said Tuesday that the AIADA decision is a cause for concern.
He said another dealer PAC is likely to create confusion, conflict and potential legal questions for dealers. It could weaken dealers' voice in Washington, he warned.
Hyatt asked: "What need is there that is not currently being met" by DEAC?
AIADA Chairman Don Hicks, owner of Shortline Automotive Inc., of Aurora, Colo., said in a statement that the new PAC will work with the "venerable institutions" DEAC and AFIT-PAC.
He says the new committee will support AIADA's agenda beyond free trade: pursuing pro-growth tax policies, ending the federal estate tax and reforming the legal system.
An internal memo obtained by Automotive News in July showed that AIADA President Marianne McInerney was pushing hard for a new PAC, in part so that top AIADA staff could attend more fund-raising events for lawmakers and congressional candidates.
The memo to AIADA board officers said that members of Congress "see thousands of people. They (and more importantly their staffs) remember who comes to the fund-raisers."
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