Physicist-Politico Pursuing Fund to Elect Scientists

Eli is a contributing correspondent for Science magazine.

Having lost his seat in a tough election in November, physicist and former Representative Bill Foster is telling his fellow scientists: You should run for office, too.

Foster, a Democrat from Illinois, lost his seat, which represents a right-leaning district outside Chicago, after serving 2 ½ years in the House of Representatives. Since then, as reported (subs) in Science in December, he has been thinking of starting a political action committee (PAC) to nurture, train, and financially support other candidates like himself.

Now he says he's "strongly pursuing the idea" of what he calls "Albert's List," a PAC named after Einstein. It's modeled after EMILY's List, the successful PAC to elect pro-choice women. The idea is to recruit scientists, engineers, and other technically proficient professionals to Congress, where he thinks their expertise would pay dividends. (He's unsure about whether to include physicians.)

This week, Foster is in Washington, D.C., for the AAAS annual meeting, where he says he is "gauging interest" for the idea among scientists, lobbyists, and current and past politicians. "The schedule's very tight for getting this up and running in time for the next election cycle," he says about the November 2012 elections.

(Join Foster for an online chat about the idea and the state of Congress tomorrow at noon EST.)

Foster has been laying the groundwork for the organization for months. He's been learning the ropes from a number of top PACs from various parts of the political spectrum. In December, he told Science :

One issue that must be resolved before any organization is created, Foster says, is whether to make the group partisan. "[Another is] whether you concentrate on only federal candidates or work on a state-by-state basis, or whether you recruit people to go into the federal bureaucracy." Then there's the question of applying a scientific litmus test. "You could imagine insisting, or not, that they have a science-based attitude about climate change, or, more controversially, about evolution," he says.

How he answers those questions could affect his ability to raise money. "I've had a lot of conversations with potential donors about the conditions under which they would or would not contribute," says Foster. He said that raising "a couple million dollars" for the next election cycle "would be a reasonable target." That would put his PAC right up there among middle-of-the road PACs in terms of fundraising, an area in which Foster has shown no shortage of skill in the past.

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