From the Congressional Glossary – Including Legislative and Budget Terms
Super PAC / Independent Expenditure-Only Committee
PACS and Super PACs
“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) (8-page PDF), 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) (6-page PDF), 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.
McConnell: Citizens United ‘Leveled the Field’ for Campaign Finance
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.
David Primo: Campaign Finance
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.
Also see the First Amendment; Political Action Committee / PAC / Leadership PAC; Lobbying and Advocacy.
- Coordinated Communications and Independent Expenditures – FEC
- Independent Expenditure-Only Committees – List from the FEC
- Super PACs – Wikipedia
- Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, 558 U.S. 50 (2010) (LII)
- Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U.S. 1 (1976) (LII)
- “Must You Be a Republican (or, God Forbid, a Romney Fan) to Defend Freedom of Speech?” by Jacob Sullum, Reason, June 1, 2012
- “Yes, Virginia (and Dan and Wendy), Citizens United opened the door to unlimited money,” by Bill Allison, Sunlight Foundation, February 27, 2012
- “Campaign Finance Regulation Under the First Amendment: Buckley v. Valeo and its Supreme Court Progeny,” CRS Report RL30669 (56-page PDF)
- “Campaign Finance Reform and Incentives to Voluntarily Limit Candidate Spending From Personal Funds: Constitutional Issues Raised by Public Subsidies and Variable Contribution Limits,” CRS Report RS20854 (7-page PDF)
- “Campaign Finance Law and the Constitutionality of the ‘Millionaire’s Amendment’: An Analysis of Davis v. Federal Election Commission,” CRS Report RS22920 (10-page PDF)
- “Campaign Finance Reform: Constitutional Issues Raised by Disclosure Requirements,” CRS Report RS20849 (8-page PDF)
- “Campaign Finance Policy After Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission: Issues and Options for Congress,” CRS Report R41054 (13-page PDF)
- “Legislative Options After Citizens United v. FEC: Constitutional and Legal Issues,” CRS Report R41096 (36-page PDF)
- “Contemporary Developments in Presidential Elections,” CRS Report R42139 (60-page PDF)
- “Campaign Finance,” CRS Report RL34324 (13-page PDF)
- “The State of Campaign Finance Policy: Recent Developments and Issues for Congress,” CRS Report R41542 (36-page PDF)
- “Churches and Campaign Activity: Analysis Under Tax and Campaign Finance Laws,” CRS Report RL34447 (16-page PDF)
- “IRS Guidelines for Political Advocacy by Exempt 501(c) Organizations: Revenue Ruling 2004-6,” CRS Report RS21725 (5-page PDF)
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