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Like it or not, politics in the United States has become a pay-to-play game.

Even at the local level, and particularly in state and federal capitals, politicians seek money — in the form of political contributions — as the price for their time and attention.

Business leaders who pay taxes and create jobs can't help but feel like extortion victims when they must go hat-in-hand to legislators with important issues and are told that contributions are a prerequisite just to get a hearing from key lawmakers.

Legislators say they cannot be bought, of course, and blame the system that requires them to raise massive amounts of money to pay for political advertising in every election cycle. Without contributions, they say, only the wealthy could win election.

Many companies and individuals in the plastics industry have been players in this political money game for years. But the key trade group, the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc., was slow to set up a political action committee to collect money and make donations on behalf of the industry.

SPI's PlasticsPAC today is dwarfed by PACs established by competing industries, but officials expect it to grow, in part because they're putting more effort into the project.

The timing for collecting donations probably couldn't be worse. Potential PlasticsPAC participants are bound to be jaded by recent headlines on illegal contributions by foreigners, sleepovers for key donors in the Lincoln bedroom, and Al Gore's phone calls from the White House soliciting money, to name but a few of the recent, unsavory revelations.

There is risk to taking the high road and choosing not to participate in this system.

PlasticsPAC is a necessary evil in today's political climate, and there's little doubt it will grow.

In a larger sense, today's political climate points to the importance of raising the plastics industry's profile at all levels.

Lawmakers, the financial community, and the public at large need to know that plastics are a major U.S. employer.

Plastics encompass many processes, and cut across many end markets. In addition to cash, votes still carry a lot of clout in political circles.