Meet FratPAC, the Group Advocating Greek Causes on Capitol Hill

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Fraternities have a political presence on Capitol Hill. Not just in the cultural, Brooks-Brothers-suit, I-graduated-from-USC-with-a-poli-sci-degree-brah sense, either. FratPAC is an actual political action committee — and one that may be able to claim at least one victory.

Bloomberg explains that victory, in which the PAC — technically, the Fraternity and Sorority Political Action Committee — may have stifled legislation aimed at curtailing hazing. Last fall, Florida Rep. Frederica Wilson joined Lianne Kowiak at an event outside the Capitol to call for federal restrictions on the practice. Kowiak's son Harrison died while he was rushing a fraternity in North Carolina. But no legislation ensued.

What Kowiak didn’t know was that, behind the scenes, the fraternity industry's political arm, known as "FratPAC," had been pressing Wilson to back off. Today, 19 months after Wilson first promised an anti-hazing bill, she hasn't filed one.

The industry’s lobbying is "disgusting," Kowiak said in an interview. "What are the priorities here?" They "should be to stop hazing so none of our youth have to go through it."

The PAC's goal, as its "About" page indicates, is to "build a positive presence in Washington that helps to protect the fraternal experience we offer to our members." Apparently that experience would not be aided by federal restrictions on hazing. A former member of Congress who advocated for such legislation in 2003 told Bloomberg that Greek organizations are "very influential" on Capitol Hill.

FratPAC isn't new. In 2011, Open Secrets, a website that documents political spending, profiled the group. It first became active during the 2006 political cycle, raising between $300,000 and $500,000 every election cycle since. As befits the stereotype of such organizations, nearly two-thirds of the group's donations since 2006 have gone to Republicans. The graph at right, using data from Open Secrets, shows the split. Open Secrets notes that the "vast majority of recipients of this money were members of Greek letter organizations during their collegiate years."

It wasn't hazing that spurred the group's creation, as Bloomberg notes. It was instead focused on reforming tax law to allow fraternities to use funds donated as charitable contributions to allow the installation of fire sprinklers. In order to effect the change to the law that would facilitate that spending, FratPAC was born.

OpenSecrets breaks down the group's contributions by donor, some of whom are identified in the Bloomberg article. More interesting, however, is the PAC's own differentiation, which shows donors by frat or sorority. The most generous members come from Kappa Alpha Order. None of the organizations listed, it's worth noting, are from traditionally African-American Greek organizations. There is another PAC, Keeping African Americans Political, that's affiliated with the Kappas. It raises far less money, all of which goes to Democrats, many of them African-American. Wilson, despite fitting into both of those categories, isn't among them.

For what it's worth, Wilson — who received $1,000 from FratPAC in 2012 — denies that the fraternities blocked the bill. “There are some hiccups in the bill in my mind as it relates to penalties,” she told Bloomberg. Frats have been known to cause hiccups.

Photo of a Smurf frat house, apparently, by Flickr user andy_bernay-roman.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.