political action committee

political action committee

political action committee (PAC), U.S. organization formed by a corporation, labor union, or association to raise money for political activity. Funds can be gathered by voluntary contributions from members, employees, or shareholders. Political action committees were first organized in the 1940s. The Political Action Committee organized by the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) in 1943 was a model for later PACs. Since the election reform of 1974, which limited individual campaign contributions and set guidelines for PACs, their numbers grew rapidly to more than 4,000 in 1988; they now number about 3,800. Many represent special-interest groups, e.g., the National Rifle Association of America; others represent large conservative or liberal coalitions. Most PACs have directed their contributions toward congressional elections, in which they can contribute up to $5,000 to a candidate for each campaign (primary, runoff, and general election). Some, however, have conducted independent negative campaigns against candidates they oppose. Increased campaign contributions by PACs have raised fears that legislators may accede to pressure from these groups and become less responsive to their constituents. Federal legislation enacted in 2002 forbids attacks on candidates by name immediately before an election.
In the US, a Political Action Committee, or PAC, is the name commonly given to a private group, regardless of size, organized to elect political candidates. Legally, what constitutes a "PAC" for purposes of regulation is a matter of state and federal law. Under the Federal Election Campaign Act, an organization becomes a "political committee" by receiving contributions or making expenditures in excess of $1,000 for the purpose of influencing a federal election.

When an interest group gets directly involved within the political process, a PAC is created. These PACs receive and raise money from the special group's constituents, and on behalf of the special interest, makes donations to political campaigns.

Contributions by individuals to federal PACs are limited to $5,000. Corporations and unions may not contribute to federal PACs, though they may pay for the administrative costs of a PAC affiliated with the specific corporation or union. Corporate and union affiliated PACs may only solicit contributions from executives, shareholders and their families (in the case of corporations) or members (in the case of unions). "Independent" PACs not affiliated with a corporation or union may solicit contributions from the general public but must pay their operating costs from these regulated contributions.

Federal Multi-candidate PACs are limited in the amount of money they can contribute to other organizations:

  • at most $5,000 per candidate per election. Elections such as primaries, general elections and special elections are counted separately.
  • at most $15,000 per political party per year.
  • at most $5,000 per PAC per year.

Under federal law, PACs are not limited in their ability to spend money independently of a candidate campaign.

Categorization of PACs

Center for Responsive Politics

The Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan, independent, and nonprofit organization that runs www.OpenSecrets.org, uses the following sectors for PACs (The latest PAC totals are available here):

  • Agribusiness
  • Communications/Electronics
  • Construction
  • Defense
  • Energy & Natural Resources
  • Finance, Insurance & Real Estate
  • Health
  • Lawyers & Lobbyists
  • Misc Business
  • Transportation
  • Labor
  • Ideological/Single-Issue
  • Other

Political Money Line

PoliticalMoneyLine uses the following categories for PACs (The latest totals are available here):

Leadership PAC

A leadership PAC in U.S. politics is a political action committee that can be established by a member of Congress to support other candidates. The funds cannot be spent to directly support the owner of the PAC's own campaign (such as mail or ads), but may fund travel and make contributions to other campaigns. During the 2006 election cycle, 256 leadership PACs contributed over $37 million to federal candidates. (The latest leadership PAC totals are available here):

Controversial use of Leadership PACs

  • Speaker Nancy Pelosi's leadership PAC, Team Majority, was fined $21,000 by federal election officials "for improperly accepting donations over federal limits.
  • Rep. John Doolittle's leadership PAC, Superior California Federal Leadership Fund, pays his wife's single-person company, Sierra Dominion Financial Solutions, 15 percent of all money raised ($68,630 in 2003-2004, $224,000 in 2005-2006). A campaign committee report in February said Doolittle's campaign still owed Julie Doolittle $137,000. The PAC also has purchased $2,139 in gifts for Bose Corporation.
  • Rep. Richard Pombo has used his leadership PAC to pay hotel bills ($22,896) and baseball tickets ($320) for donors.

2004 Presidential election

In the 2004 elections, the top 10 PACs by money spent by themselves, their affiliates and subsidiaries were as follows:

  1. EMILY's List $22,767,521
  2. Service Employees International Union $12,899,352
  3. American Federation of Teachers $12,789,296
  4. American Medical Association $11,901,542
  5. National Rifle Association $11,173,358
  6. Teamsters Union $11,128,729
  7. International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers $10,819,724
  8. National Education Association $10,521,538
  9. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees $9,882,022
  10. Laborers' International Union of North America $9,523,837

Top All-Time Donors

According to OpenSecrets.org the top contributors since 1988 ranked by their total spending along with the party tilt of their contributions are
Rank Organization Total Dem % Repub % Tilt
1 American Fedn of State, County & Municipal Employees $39,947,843 98% 1% Solidly Dem (over 90%)
2 AT&T Inc $39,772,431 43% 55% Between 40% and 59% to both parties
3 National Assn of Realtors $33,280,206 47% 52% Between 40% and 59% to both parties
4 Goldman Sachs $29,588,362 63% 36% Leans Dem (60%-69%)
5 American Assn for Justice $29,520,389 90% 9% Solidly Dem (over 90%)
6 Intl Brotherhood of Electrical Workers $28,733,734 97% 2% Solidly Dem (over 90%)
7 National Education Assn $28,388,334 93% 6% Solidly Dem (over 90%)
8 Laborers Union $26,881,889 91% 7% Solidly Dem (over 90%)
9 Service Employees International Union $26,719,663 95% 3% Solidly Dem (over 90%)
10 Carpenters & Joiners Union $25,995,149 90% 9% Solidly Dem (over 90%)
11 Teamsters Union $25,627,772 92% 6% Solidly Dem (over 90%)
12 Communications Workers of America $25,404,269 99% 0% Solidly Dem (over 90%)
13 American Medical Assn $25,235,971 38% 61% Leans Repub (60%-69%)
14 American Federation of Teachers $24,969,593 98% 0% Solidly Dem (over 90%)
15 Citigroup Inc $24,784,983 49% 50% Between 40% and 59% to both parties
16 United Auto Workers $24,634,120 98% 0% Solidly Dem (over 90%)
17 Machinists & Aerospace Workers Union $23,548,086 98% 0% Solidly Dem (over 90%)
18 Altria Group $23,264,991 27% 72% Strongly Repub (60%-69%)
19 United Food & Commercial Workers Union $22,926,107 98% 1% Solidly Dem (over 90%)
20 National Auto Dealers Assn $22,733,608 31% 68% Leans Repub (60%-69%)

See also


External links

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