In the United States and Canada, a political action committee (PAC) is a 527 organization that pools campaign contributions from members and donates those funds to campaigns for or against candidates, ballot initiatives, or legislation. The legal term PAC has been created in pursuit of campaign finance reform in the United States. This term is quite specific to all activities of campaign finance in the United States. Democracies of other countries use different terms for the units of campaign spending or spending on political competition (see political finance). At the U.S. federal level, an organization becomes a PAC when it receives or spends more than $1,000 for the purpose of influencing a federal election, and registers with the Federal Election Commission, according to the Federal Election Campaign Act as amended by the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (also known as the McCain-Feingold Act). At the state level, an organization becomes a PAC according to the state's election laws.
Contributions from corporate or labor union treasuries are illegal, though they may sponsor a PAC and provide financial support for its administration and fundraising. Union-affiliated PACs may only solicit contributions from members. Independent PACs may solicit contributions from the general public and must pay their own costs from those funds.
Federal multi-candidate PACs may contribute to candidates as follows:
In its 2010 case Citizens United v. FEC, the Supreme Court of the United States overturned sections of the Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (also known as the McCain-Feingold Act) that had prohibited corporate and union political independent expenditures in political campaigns. Citizens United made it legal for corporations and unions to spend from their general treasuries to finance independent expenditures related to campaigns, but did not alter the prohibition on direct corporate or union contributions to federal campaigns. Organizations seeking to contribute directly to federal candidate campaigns must still rely on traditional PACs for that purpose.
Federal law formally allows for two types of PACs: connected and non-connected. Judicial decisions added a third classification, independent-expenditure only committees, which are colloquially known as "Super PACs".
Most of the 4,600 active, registered PACs are "connected PACs" established by businesses, labor unions, trade groups, or health organizations. 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. As of January 2009, there were 1,598 registered corporate PACs, 272 related to labor unions and 995 to trade organizations. 
Groups with an ideological mission, single-issue groups, and members of Congress and other political leaders may form "non-connected PACs". These organizations may accept funds from any individual, connected PAC, or organization. As of January 2009, there were 1,594 non-connected PACs, the fastest-growing category.
Elected officials and political parties cannot give more than the federal limit directly to candidates. However, they can set up a Leadership PAC that makes independent expenditures. Provided the expenditure is not coordinated with the other candidate, this type of spending is not limited.
Under the FEC (Federal Election Commission) rules, leadership PACs are non-connected PACs, and can accept donations from individuals and other PACs. Since current officeholders have an easier time attracting contributions, Leadership PACs are a way dominant parties can capture seats from other parties. A leadership PAC sponsored by an elected official cannot use funds to support that official's own campaign. However, it may fund travel, administrative expenses, consultants, polling, and other non-campaign expenses.
Between 2008 and 2009, leadership PACs raised and spent more than $47 million.
Super PACs, officially known as "independent-expenditure only committees", may not make contributions to candidate campaigns or parties, but may engage in unlimited political spending independently of the campaigns. Unlike traditional PACs, they can raise funds from individuals, corporations, unions, and other groups without any legal limit on donation size.
Super PACs were made possible by two judicial decisions: the aforementioned Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission and, two months later, Speechnow.org v. FEC. In Speechnow.org, the federal Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit held that PACs that did not make contributions to candidates, parties, or other PACs could accept unlimited contributions from individuals, unions, and corporations (both for profit and not-for-profit) for the purpose of making independent expenditures.
The result of the Citizens United and SpeechNow.org decisions was the rise of a new type of political action committee in 2010, popularly dubbed the "super PAC". In an open meeting on July 22, 2010, the FEC approved two Advisory Opinions to modify FEC policy in accordance with the legal decisions. These Advisory Opinions were issued in response to requests from two existing PACs, Club for Growth, and Commonsense Ten, which later became Senate Majority PAC. The opinions gave a sample wording letter which all Super PACs must submit to qualify for the deregulated status, and such letters continue to be used by Super PACs up to the present date. FEC Chairman Steven T. Walther dissented on both opinions and issued a statement giving his thoughts. In the statement, Walther stated "There are provisions of the Act and Commission regulations not addressed by the court in SpeechNow that continue to prohibit Commonsense Ten from soliciting or accepting contributions from political committees in excess of $5,000 annually or any contributions from corporations or labor organizations" (emphasis in original).
The term "Super PAC" was coined by reporter Eliza Newlin Carney. According to Politico, Carney, a staff writer covering lobbying and influence for CQ Roll Call, "made the first identifiable, published reference to 'super PAC' as it's known today while working at National Journal, writing on June 26, 2010, of a group called Workers' Voices, that it was a kind of "'super PAC' that could become increasingly popular in the post-Citizens United world."
According to FEC advisories, Super PACs are not allowed to coordinate directly with candidates or political parties. This restriction is intended to prevent them from operating campaigns that complement or parallel those of the candidates they support or engaging in negotiations that could result in quid pro quo bargaining between donors to the PAC and the candidate or officeholder. However, it is legal for candidates and Super PAC managers to discuss campaign strategy and tactics through the media.
Super PACs may support particular candidacies. In the 2012 presidential election, Super PACs played a major role, spending more than the candidates' election campaigns in the Republican primaries. As of early April 2012, Restore Our Future—a Super PAC usually described as having been created to help Mitt Romney's presidential campaign—had spent $40 million. Winning Our Future (a pro–Newt Gingrich group) spent $16 million. Some Super PACs are run or advised by a candidate's former staff or associates.
In the 2012 election campaign, most of the money given to super PACs came from wealthy individuals, not corporations. According to data from the Center for Responsive Politics, the top 100 individual super PAC donors in 2011–2012 made up just 3.7% of contributors, but accounted for more than 80% of the total money raised, while less than 0.5% of the money given to "the most active Super PACs" was donated by publicly traded corporations. Super PACs have been criticized for relying heavily on negative ads.
As of February 2012, according to Center for Responsive Politics, 313 groups organized as Super PACs had received $98,650,993 and spent $46,191,479. This means early in the 2012 election cycle, PACs had already greatly exceeded total receipts of 2008. The leading Super PAC on its own raised more money than the combined total spent by the top 9 PACS in the 2008 cycle.
The 2012 figures do not include funds raised by state level PACs.
By January 2010, at least 38 states and the federal government required disclosure for all or some independent expenditures or electioneering communications. These disclosures were intended to deter potentially or seemingly corrupting donations.
Yet despite disclosure rules, it is possible to spend money without voters knowing the identities of donors before the election. In federal elections, for example, political action committees have the option to choose to file reports on a "monthly" or "quarterly" basis. This allows funds raised by PACs in the final days of the election to be spent and votes cast before the report is due.
In one high-profile case, a donor to a super PAC kept his name hidden by using an LLC formed for the purpose of hiding their personal name. One super PAC, that originally listed a $250,000 donation from an LLC that no one could find, led to a subsequent filing where the previously "secret donors" were revealed. However, campaign finance experts have argued that this tactic is already illegal, since it would constitute a contribution in the name of another.
The Center for Responsive Politics maintains a list of the largest PACs by election cycle on its website OpenSecrets.org. Their list can be filtered by receipts or different types of expenses, political party, and type of PAC.
In the 2008 election, the top nine PACs spent a total of $25,794,807 (directly, and via their affiliates and subsidiaries) as follows:
|url=(help) (Encyclopedia) (2 ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780199916467.
American Atheists is a non-profit organization in the United States dedicated to defending the civil liberties of atheists and advocating complete separation of church and state. It provides speakers for colleges, universities, clubs, and the news media. It also publishes books and the quarterly American Atheist Magazine, edited by Pamela Whissel.The organization was founded in 1963 by Madalyn Murray O'Hair. She had earlier filed a lawsuit against her school board, with her son William J. Murray as plaintiff, to challenge compulsory prayer and Bible reading in public schools. Her case, Murray v. Curlett, was consolidated with Abington School District v. Schempp before being heard by the United States Supreme Court. In 1963 it ruled that mandatory Bible reading in public schools was unconstitutional.Americans for a Republican Majority
Americans for a Republican Majority (also ARMPAC) was a political action committee formed by former Republican House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and directed by Karl Gallant. On July 7, 2006 ARMPAC reached an agreement with the Federal Election Commission to pay a fine of $115,000 for various violations and to shut down operations. It filed its termination papers on April 24, 2007.Armenian American Political Action Committee
Armenian American Political Action Committee (A.A.P.A.C.), was founded by Albert A. Boyajian.
It is a grassroots political organization and coordinates with a network of offices, chapters and supporters throughout the United States and affiliated organizations around the world, and concerns of the Armenian-American community on a broad range of issues.BIPAC
BIPAC (Business-Industry Political Action Committee) is a purportedly nonpartisan, membership-supported, mission-driven, organization dedicated to increasing the political effectiveness of America’s business community, although some 89% of its donations go to Republican candidates. It is led by former U.S. Congressman Jim Gerlach, who served Pennsylvania's sixth congressional district from 2002-2014.CIO-PAC
The first-ever "political action committee" in the United States of America was the Congress of Industrial Organizations - Political Action Committee or CIO-PAC. What distinguished the CIO-PAC from previous political groups (including the AFL's political operations) was its "open, public operation, soliciting support from non-CIO unionists and from the progressive public... Moreover, CIO political operatives would actively participate in intraparty platform, policy, and candidate selection processes, pressing the broad agenda of the industrial union movement."Conservative Political Action Conference
The Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC; SEE-pak) is an annual political conference attended by conservative activists and elected officials from across the United States. CPAC is hosted by the American Conservative Union (ACU).In 2011, ACU took CPAC on the road with its first Regional CPAC in Orlando, Florida. Since then ACU has hosted regional CPACs in Chicago, Denver, St. Louis, and San Diego. Political front runners take the stage at this convention.The 2019 CPAC took place at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center from February 27 to March 2, 2019.EMILY's List
EMILY's List is an American political action committee (PAC) that aims to help elect pro-choice Democratic female candidates to office. It was founded by Ellen Malcolm in 1985. According to the Washington Examiner, EMILY's List is "the nation's most influential pro-choice political action committee."The group's name is an acronym for "Early Money Is Like Yeast", Malcolm commenting that "it makes the dough rise". The saying is a reference to a convention of political fundraising: that receiving lots of donations early in a race is helpful in attracting subsequent donors.
Emily's List bundles contributions to the campaigns of pro-choice Democratic women running in targeted races.From 1985 through 2008, EMILY's List had raised and spent $240 million for political candidates. EMILY's List spent $27.4 million in 2010, $34 million in 2012, and $44.9 million in 2014. The organization was on track to raise $60 million for the 2016 election cycle, much of it earmarked for Hillary Clinton, whose presidential bid EMILY's List had endorsed.Genentech
Genentech, Inc., is a biotechnology corporation which became a subsidiary of Roche in 2009. Genentech Research and Early Development operates as an independent center within Roche.As of February 2019, Genentech employed 13,697 people.Hans Schmidt (Waffen-SS)
Hans Schmidt (24 April 1927 – 30 May 2010) was a German-born naturalized American citizen, member of the Waffen-SS during World War II, and founder of the German-American National Political Action Committee (GANPAC). He was primarily known for his promotion of White separatism, National Socialism, antisemitism, and Holocaust denial. Schmidt was arrested in Germany on hate charges in 1995, but avoided standing trial by returning to the USA while released on bail.International Association of Fire Fighters
The International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) is a labor union representing paid full-time firefighters and emergency medical services personnel in the United States and Canada. The IAFF was formed in 1918 and is affiliated with the AFL-CIO in the United States and the Canadian Labour Congress in Canada. The IAFF has more than 316,000 members in its more than 3,200 affiliate organizations. Its political action committee, FIREPAC, is one of the most active PACs in the country.J Street
J Street is a nonprofit liberal advocacy group based in the United States whose stated aim is to promote American leadership to end the Arab–Israeli and Israeli–Palestinian conflicts peacefully and diplomatically. J Street was incorporated on November 29, 2007.According to J Street, its political action committee is "the first and only federal Political Action Committee whose goal is to demonstrate that there is meaningful political and financial support to candidates for federal office from large numbers of Americans who believe a new direction in American policy will advance U.S. interests in the Middle East and promote real peace and security for Israel and the region".J Street describes itself as "the political home for pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans who want Israel to be secure, democratic and the national home of the Jewish people ... advocat[ing] policies that advance shared US and Israeli interests as well as Jewish and democratic values, leading to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict". Critics allege that J Street and the policies they support are, in fact, anti-Israel.Krist Novoselic
Krist Anthony Novoselic (; Croatian: Krist Novoselić; born May 16, 1965) is an American musician and political activist, and was the bassist and founding member of the grunge band Nirvana alongside guitarist and lead singer Kurt Cobain. Nirvana achieved massive success, earning multiple gold and platinum awards and touring around the world at sold-out shows.After Nirvana disbanded following the death of Kurt Cobain in 1994, Novoselic formed Sweet 75 in the following year and Eyes Adrift in 2002, releasing one album with each band. From 2006 to 2009, he played in the punk rock band Flipper, and in 2011, he contributed bass and accordion to the song "I Should Have Known" on the Foo Fighters' studio album Wasting Light, along with playing bass guitar and accordion in his current band, Giants in the Trees since June 2017.Apart from his musical endeavours, Novoselic has been active politically, including the creation of the political action committee JAMPAC (Joint Artists and Musicians Political Action Committee). From 2007 through 2010 he wrote a weekly column on music and politics for Seattle Weekly's website. Since 2008 Novoselic has been board chair of the electoral reform organization FairVote.LGBTQ Victory Fund
The LGBTQ Victory Fund (formerly the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund), commonly shortened to Victory Fund, is an American political action committee dedicated to increasing the number of openly LGBT public officials in the United States. Victory Fund is the largest LGBT political action committee in the United States and one of the nation’s largest non-connected PACs.LPAC
LPAC is a Super PAC founded in 2012 to represent the interests of lesbians in the United States, and to campaign on LGBT and women's rights issues. According to its chair it was the first Super PAC of its kind. Its supporters include Billie Jean King, Jane Lynch, Laura Ricketts and Urvashi Vaid. On its first day of operations, LPAC raised $200,000. In April 2015 LPAC endorsed Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign.Muslim Public Affairs Council
The Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) is a national American Muslim advocacy and public policy organization headquartered in Los Angeles and with offices in Washington, D.C. MPAC was founded in 1986.National Conservative Political Action Committee
The National Conservative Political Action Committee (NCPAC; pronounced "nick-pack"), based in Alexandria, Virginia, was a New Right political action committee in the United States that was a major contributor to the ascendancy of conservative Republicans in the early 1980s, including the election of Ronald Reagan as President, and that innovated the use of independent expenditures to circumvent campaign finance restrictions.
In 1979 Time magazine characterized NCPAC, the Conservative Caucus and the Committee for the Survival of a Free Congress (headed by Paul Weyrich) as the three most important ultraconservative organizations making up the New Right.National Republican Trust Political Action Committee
The National Republican Trust Political Action Committee is a conservative political action committee run by Scott Wheeler. According to the group, they are "not an official RNC committee". They describe themselves as "conservative Republicans dedicated to helping restore the GOP to its historic conservative roots by mobilizing like-minded Republicans nationwide."Terry Dolan (activist)
John Terrence "Terry" Dolan (1950 – December 28, 1986) was an American New Right political activist who was a co-founder and chairman of the National Conservative Political Action Committee (NCPAC). Dolan was also, during the mid to late 1970s, in the leadership of Christian Voice, "the nation's oldest conservative Christian lobby".While Dolan was a proponent of family values and the organizations he led were persistently critical of gay rights, he was revealed to have been a closeted homosexual, who frequented gay bars in Washington, D.C. He died from complications of AIDS at the age of 36.Worldwide LaRouche Youth Movement
The Worldwide LaRouche Youth Movement (WLYM or LYM) and the LaRouche Political Action Committee (LaRouche PAC or LPAC) are part of the political organization of controversial American political figure Lyndon LaRouche. The LYM's "war room" is in Leesburg, Virginia, also the headquarters of LPAC. The LaRouche Youth Movement describes itself as an international political movement of young adults, led by Lyndon LaRouche, who promote the revival of classical humanist thought, organize politically to establish a new world economic system based on the power of human creativity to increase the power of the human individual in relation to the universe, and fight for a physical economy which can promote the general welfare of humanity, to develop and move towards better living conditions.
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