Political Action Committee (PAC) — 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 contributions of 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.
PACs have been a key part of the American political system 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, which are not technically affiliated with the candidate, as a way of raising money to help fund other candidates’ campaigns. 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 an alphabetical list of PAC acronyms, abbreviations, initials, and common names, see the FEC’s list of PACRONYMS. For more information on PACs, check out the FEC’s “Campaign Guide for Corporations and Labor Organizations and the “Campaign Guide for Nonconnected Committees; a chart showing changes in the number of PACs between 1977 and 1998 is also available on the FEC’s web site.