March 7, 2013 | by Dave Purdy
Announcing world’s first AIDS Super PAC

A traditional political action committee (PAC) is an entity organized for the purpose of raising and spending funds to elect and defeat candidates; there are limits imposed on the amounts of money allocated to any single candidate or political party. A Super PAC, on the other hand, has no limits and the donors, whether individuals, corporations, unions or other entities, may choose to remain anonymous. Although Super PACs are prohibited from giving money directly to candidates or their campaigns, each Super PAC may spend an unlimited amount to promote a cause, position, or policy.

It’s time for an AIDS Super PAC.

There are Super PACs in every interest group imaginable – for children, for industry, even for religions. In the health care field, every major pharmaceutical company has a Super PAC and almost all produce AIDS drugs.

Does the AIDS community today have less power than it did during the ‘80s and ‘90s? Sadly, it seemed impossible to attract activists for a march or a rally during the 19th International AIDS Conference, the first time it had been held in the United States for 22 years. Why weren’t there thousands, even tens of thousands, of AIDS activists in the streets? Just as distressing, very few people bothered to go to the Mall to see the AIDS Memorial Quilt.

Early on in the AIDS epidemic some activists realized that screaming and yelling — being visible, loud and persistent — could lead to action. Today, however, too many feel we have lost power. After all, they reason, fewer people today in the United States are dying from AIDS than were two or three decades ago. Emphasis on in the United States. Where are the voices crying, “But we’re still dying! And even a single death from AIDS is one too many!”

This week there was an event called “AIDS Watch” created by the now former National Association of People with AIDS (NAPWA).  For one day each year, activists descend on Capitol Hill to try to persuade members of the House and Senate — whom, we all know, we rarely meet face to face — that it’s critical to continue and even increase funding for AIDS treatment, care and research. Unfortunately, the response from many of our elected officials is a big yawn. “Isn’t AIDS a manageable disease now? I thought no one died from AIDS anymore.”

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could walk into an elected official’s office and say, “We have $10 million in media buying power to use against candidates who vote ‘no’ on full funding for AIDS.”

Remember “swift boating” during the 2004 presidential race?  It got its name from the smear campaign against John Kerry launched by Swift Vets and POWs for Truth and played a big part in Kerry’s defeat. Shocking? Yes, but effective, very much so.

Are you familiar with MoveOn.org? In 1994, MoveOn.org launched a petition drive to censure, rather than impeach, President Bill Clinton, and raised nearly $60 million from mainly $50 donations. MoveOn.org went on to oppose the Iraq war and support campaign finance reform. In 2008, MoveOn.org helped elect Barack Obama.

In contrast, Mitt Romney’s Super PAC reportedly raised millions of dollars for attack ads directed at GOP rivals and, of course, against President Obama. Today, there are more than 40 politicians with Super PACs and over a dozen for former elected officials. Super PACs exist because money translates into power and enough money has been shown to shape the positions of both politicians and the general public.

If we want to have political power, we need to create an AIDS Super PAC. A strong AIDS Super PAC could save the lives of millions of people living with HIV and AIDS in the United States and around the world. It’s critical we wait no longer to create the world’s first AIDS Super PAC. With sufficient funds, we can make sure our voices are heard, not just one day in the year, but year round and that our voices are turned into votes for people living with HIV and AIDS.

There are a number of LGBT Super PACs, such as the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, the Human Rights Campaign and Pride PAC; last year, “Glee” actress Jane Lynch and Billie Jean King helped launch LPAC (Lesbian Political Action Committee), a Super PAC to support lesbian issues and pro-lesbian candidates. There’s even a gay Republican Super PAC that helps Republican candidates who support gay marriage. Yes, there’s a Super PAC for almost everything, so why not one for the AIDS community.

I have a confession:  This isn’t an announcement of an AIDS Super PAC.  I am, however, announcing we must join together to create one.  Expect an announcement soon. Stay tuned.

Dave Purdy is founder and CEO of the World AIDS Institute. Reach him via worldaidsinstitute.org or at dpurdy@worldaidsinstitute.org.

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