Super PAC / Independent Expenditure-Only Committee (CongressionalGlossary.com)

From the Congressional Glossary – Including Legislative and Budget Terms

Super PAC / Independent Expenditure-Only Committee


“Super PAC” is the colloquial term for “Independent Expenditure-Only Committee”.

Independent expenditures represent spending by individuals, groups, political committees, corporations or unions expressly advocating the election or defeat of clearly identified federal candidates. These expenditures may not be made in concert or cooperation with, or at the request or suggestion of, a candidate, the candidate’s campaign or a political party.

An Independent Expenditure-Only Committee (i.e., “Super PAC”) is a registered political committee that intends to make only independent expenditures. A Super PAC may not give direct contributions to any federally registered committees or candidates, with the exception of other Independent Expenditure-Only Committees. The Super PAC may solicit and accept unlimited contributions from individuals, political committees, corporations and labor organizations for the purpose of making independent expenditures.

In July 2010, in accordance with the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals decision in SpeechNow v. FEC, the FEC approved two advisory opinions concerning the application of the Act in regards to groups solely making independent expenditures.

In AO 2010-09 (Club for Growth) (22-page PDFPDF), The Commission concluded that a 501(c)(4) corporation can establish a political committee that will make only independent expenditures and may solicit unlimited contributions from individuals in the general public.

In AO 2010-11 (Commonsense Ten) (7-page PDFPDF), The Commission concluded that a registered nonconnected political committee that intends to make only independent expenditures may solicit and accept unlimited contributions from individuals, political committees, corporations and labor organizations for the purpose of making independent expenditures.


Any time up to 20 days before an election, if independent expenditures by a person or organization aggregate more than $10,000 in a race they must be reported to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) before the end of the second day following the communication’s publicly distribution. If the communications are distributed after the 20th day but more than 24 hours before the day of an election and they aggregate more than $1,000 in any race, the expenditures must be reported within one day.

When financing communications in connection with federal elections, it is important to understand that the rules differ significantly depending on whether the communication is coordinated with a candidate or party committee or is produced and distributed independently. In general, amounts spent for coordinated communications are limited, but independent expenditures are unlimited.

When an individual or political committee pays for a communication that is coordinated with a candidate or party committee, the communication is considered an in-kind contribution to that candidate or party committee and is subject to the limits, prohibitions and reporting requirements of the federal campaign finance law.

In general, a payment for a communication is “coordinated” if it is made in cooperation, consultation or concert with, or at the request or suggestion of, a candidate, a candidate’s authorized committee or their agents, or a political party committee or its agents. 11 CFR 109.21. To be an “agent” of a candidate, candidate’s committee or political party committee for the purposes of determining whether a communication is coordinated, a person must have actual authorization, either express or implied, from a specific principal to engage in specific activities, and then engage in those activities on behalf of that specific principal. Such activities would also result in a coordinated communication if carried out directly by the candidate, authorized committee staff or a political party official. 11 CFR 109.3(a) and (b).

FEC regulations establish a three-prong test to determine whether a communication is coordinated. All three prongs of the test–payment, content and conduct–must be met for a communication to be deemed coordinated and thus an in-kind contribution.


Super PACs are a new kind of political action committee created in July 2010 following the outcome of a federal court case known as SpeechNow.org v. Federal Election Commission.

Technically known as independent expenditure-only committees, Super PACs may raise unlimited sums of money from corporations, unions, associations and individuals, then spend unlimited sums to overtly advocate for or against political candidates. Super PACs must, however, report their donors to the Federal Election Commission on a monthly or quarterly basis — the Super PAC’s choice — as a traditional PAC would. Unlike traditional PACs, Super PACs are prohibited from donating money directly to political candidates.

Super PACs, OpenSecrets.org

Also see the First Amendment; Political Action Committee / PAC / Leadership PAC; Lobbying and Advocacy.

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