Political Action Committee (PAC) A popular term for a political committee organized for the purpose of raising and spending money to elect and defeat candidates. Most PACs represent business, labor or ideological interests. PACs can give $5,000 to a candidate committee per election (primary, general or special). They can also give up to $15,000 annually to any national party committee, and $5,000 annually to any other PAC. PACs may receive up to $5,000 from any one individual, PAC or party committee per calendar year. A PAC must register with the FEC within 10 days of its formation, providing name and address for the PAC, its treasurer and any connected organizations. Affiliated PACs are treated as one donor for the purpose of contribution limits.
PACs have been around since 1944, when the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) formed the first one to raise money for the re-election of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The PAC's money came from voluntary contributions from union members rather than union treasuries, so it did not violate the Smith Connally Act of 1943, which forbade unions from contributing to federal candidates. Although commonly called PACs, federal election law refers to these accounts as "separate segregated funds" because money contributed to a PAC is kept in a bank account separate from the general corporate or union treasury.
Many politicians also form Leadership PACs as a way of raising money to help fund other candidates' campaigns. Since
June 2008, Leadership PACs reporting electronically must list the candidate sponsoring the PAC, as per the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007. Leadership PACs are often indicative of a politician's aspirations for leadership positions in Congress or for higher office. (A breakdown of spending by Leadership PACs is available on this web site.)
For more information on PACs, check out the FEC's "Campaign Guide for Corporations and Labor Organizations " and the "Campaign Guide for Nonconnected Committees " (both available in PDF format). For an alphabetical list of PAC acronyms, abbreviations, initials, and common names, see the FEC's list of PACRONYMS. A chart showing changes in the number of PACs between 1977 and 1998 is also available on the FEC's web site.
What's a super PAC?
A new type of PAC was created after the U.S. Court of Appeals decision in Speechnow v. FEC in 2010. These PACs make no contributions to candidates or parties. They do, however make independent expenditures in federal races - running ads or sending mail or communicating in other ways with messages that specifically advocate the election or defeat of a specific candidate. There are no limits or restrictions on the sources of funds that may be used for these expenditures. These committees file regular financial reports with the FEC which include their donors along with their expenditures. View the current list of super PACs.
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