New PAC to back scientifically trained Democrats

     Shaughnessy Naughton (Emma Lee/for NewsWorks)

    Shaughnessy Naughton (Emma Lee/for NewsWorks)

    Scientists feeling underrepresented in Congress have a new political action committee fighting for candidates with technical backgrounds.

    Launched earlier this month, 314 PAC draws its name from the first digits of the mathematical constant, pi, and aims to get more scientifically literate candidates on Capitol Hill.

    314 PAC founder and executive director, Shaughnessy Naughton, is a Bryn Mawr chemistry graduate who narrowly lost the Democratic primary for Pennsylvania’s 8th district last spring. She said she got the idea to form a science-focused PAC after observing the strong support of the research community during her last campaign.

    “There is growing concern about the anti-science rhetoric that we hear out of too many politicians,” said Naughton, “and the lack of funding for basic research that’s really not just hindering research, but putting our economy at risk.”

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    Others have floated the idea of a science PAC, but few have been created and none have made a big political splash. The most prominent example in recent years is Franklin’s List, which lost energy after one of its co-founders, Bill Foster, was elected to Congress from Illinois.

    President and CEO of the nonprofit Research!America, Mary Woolley, is enthusiastic about using PACs to drum up support from scientists, who she says can be naïve about the importance of politics in the field. But she thinks 314 PAC’s decision to only back Democrats is a mistake.

    “I think there’s no purpose served in perpetuating a myth that the only people who care about science are Democrats,” said Woolley.

    Naughton stands by her choice — at least for now. It is easier to raise funds, she says, if Republicans are excluded.

    “We all agree that science is above partisan politics, but unfortunately today, it does seem like there is a clear distinction between the two parties as far as promoting a pro-science agenda,” she said.

    Given the tight schedule between now and November, 314 PAC plans to back just two or three candidates this election season. Naughton, however, intends to ramp up the operation in the following months and recruit new candidates.

    The first candidate to gain 314 PAC’s endorsement is Seth Moulton, a Harvard physics graduate who recently won his primary over a nine-term incumbent in the 6th district of Massachusetts.

    With the upcoming retirement of New Jersey Representative Rush Holt, only one physicist will remain in Congress: Illinois’s Bill Foster.

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