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In the United Statesmarker, 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.

Use of PACs

When an interest group, union, or corporation wants to contribute to federal candidates or parties, it must do so through a PAC. These PACs receive and raise money from a "restricted class," generally consisting of managers and shareholders in the case of a corporation, and members in the case of a union or other interest group. The PAC may then make donations to political campaigns. PACs and individuals are the only entities allowed to contribute funds to candidates for federal office. Contributions from corporate or labor union treasuries are illegal, though they may sponsor a PAC and provide financial support for its administration and fundraising. Overall, PACs account for less than thirty percent of total contributions in U.S. Congressional races, and considerably less in presidential races.

Contributions by individuals to federal PACs are limited to $5,000 per year. Corporations and unions may not contribute directly to federal PACs, though they may pay for the administrative costs of a PAC affiliated with the specific corporation or union. Corporate-affiliated PACs may only solicit contributions from executives, shareholders, and their families, while union-affiliated PACs may only solicit contributions from members. "Independent" PACs not affiliated with a corporation, union, or trade or membership association 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 candidate campaigns or 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. This may include expenditures on activities in support of (or against) a candidate, as long as they are not coordinated with the candidate.

If two or more PACs share the same sponsoring organization, they are considered to be "affiliated" and their total donations are counted under aggregate limits, i.e. the total donations from all may not exceed $5,000 for a specific candidate in a given election.

PACs must report all of the financial activities, including direct donations and other expenses, to the Federal Election Commission (FEC), which makes the reports available to the public.

Categorization of PACs

Center for Responsive Politics

The Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan, independent, and nonprofit organization that runs, 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. According to the Center for Responsive Politics 376 leadership PACs contributed over $39.3 million to federal candidates in the 2008 election cycle.

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."
  • Former 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.
  • Former Rep. Richard Pombo has used his leadership PAC to pay hotel bills ($22,896) and to buy baseball tickets ($320) for donors.

2008 Election Cycle

In the 2008 elections, the top 10 PACs by money spent by themselves, their affiliates and subsidiaries were as follows:

  1. National Association of Realtors PAC $4,020,900
  2. IBEW PAC $3,344,650
  3. AT&T Federal PAC $3,108,200
  4. American Bankers Association $2,918,14
  5. National Beer Wholesalers Association PAC $2,869,000
  6. Dealers Election Action Committee of the National Automobile Dealers Association $2,860,000
  7. International Association of Fire Fighters $2,734,900
  8. International Union of Operating Engineers Political Education Committee $2,704,067
  9. American Association for Justice PAC $2,700,500
  10. Laborers International Union of North America PAC $2,555,350

Top All-Time Donors

According to, 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% Leans 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


  1. Open Secrets website [1], Retrieved on August 10, 2009.
  2. - Pelosi PAC fined $21,000 by federal elections officials
  3. Politics - FBI raids Doolittle house -
  4. Political Action Committees
  5. Lawmaker Criticized for PAC Fees Paid to Wife -

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