A group of politically connected disability advocates is forming what’s believed to be a first-of-its-kind organization to bankroll political candidates who support disability issues.
The Disability Power & Pride Political Action Committee, or PAC, will host its first fund-raiser on Monday after forming little more than a week ago. Already, however, organizers say they’re garnering broad support. Backers include American Association of People with Disabilities head Andrew Imparato and former Congressman Tony Coelho who helped push the Americans with Disabilities Act through Congress.
“People in the disability community are incredibly interested,” says Stephen Bennett, who serves as the PAC’s chairman outside of his day job as head of United Cerebral Palsy. “The disability rights movement has always been a second class citizen, but I think people are waking up.”
Initially, Bennett says the Disability Power & Pride PAC will support candidates running for federal office who have disabilities themselves and candidates in races where disability issues are at play, regardless of party affiliation.
One race that’s already on the PAC’s radar is an open Senate seat from Kentucky where Republican candidate Rand Paul has publicly questioned whether the Americans with Disabilities Act is an overreach of federal government.
“If you’re going to go around saying that you want to be elected to political office and you want to do away with the ADA, well then the disability community is going to come together to raise money to defeat you,” Bennett says.
Monday’s fund-raiser in Washington will benefit Rep. Jim Langevin, D-R.I., who is the first member of the House of Representatives with quadriplegia. Already, PAC organizers say they’ve surpassed their $5,000 fund-raising goal for Langevin’s campaign. What’s more, the PAC itself now has $3,500 in the bank.
PACs can be influential in political campaigns by bundling money from donors across the country to support a wide range of candidates who have similar ideologies. Bennett says the Disability Power & Pride PAC is being modeled after successful PACs like EMILY’S List, which supports pro-choice Democrats, and the Victory Fund, which boosts candidates who are gay and lesbian.
In the next six months alone, Bennett says the PAC has the potential to raise $50,000 to $100,000. Under federal election law, individuals can contribute up to $5,000 annually to a PAC, but corporations cannot participate. In addition, individuals can give up to $2,400 annually directly to any campaign they support.
Currently organizers are in talks with another congressional candidate to hold a fund-raiser in September. Efforts are also underway to rate political candidates on their views and actions related to disability issues. Eventually, organizers say they hope to branch out to the state and local level as well.
“The people that we elect to office have such a huge impact on our lives and if we are able to help elect people with disabilities, that makes a difference,” says the PAC’s treasurer Mark Perriello, who previously worked as director of diversity at the White House and has experience from a number of PACs including the Victory Fund. “It seemed like this is something that was lacking in the disability community.”
Correction: This article has been corrected to reflect that Jonathan Young, chair of the National Council on Disability, is not affiliated with and has not donated to the Disability Power & Pride PAC. Rather, Young is vice chair of the Committee on Disability Power & Pride, a separate group.