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About PACs - Political Action Committees

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In 1944, the Congress of Industrial Organizations, the CIO part of what is today the AFL-CIO, wanted to help President Franklin Roosevelt get re-elected. Standing in their way was the Smith Connally Act of 1943, which made it illegal for labor unions to contribute funds to federal candidates. The CIO went around Smith Connally by urging individual union members to voluntarily contribute money directly to the Roosevelt campaign. It worked very well and PACs, or political action committees were born. Since then, PACs have raised billions of dollars for thousands of candidates and causes.

Political Action Committees, commonly called "PACs," are organizations dedicated to raising and spending money to either elect or defeat political candidates.

Most PACs are directly connected to specific corporations, labor groups, or recognized political parties. Examples of these PACs include Microsoft (a corporate PAC) and the Teamsters Union (organized labor). These PACs may solicit contributions from their employees or members and make contributions in the PACs name to candidates or political parties.

Nonconnected or ideological PACs raise and spend money to elect candidates -- from any political party -- who support their ideals or agendas. Nonconnected PACs are made up of individuals or groups of U.S. citizens, not connected to a corporation, a labor party or a political party. Examples of nonconnected PACs include the National Rifle Association (gun owner rights) and Emily's List (abortion, pro-choice). A nonconnected PAC can solicit contributions from the general public of U.S. citizens and permanent residents.

A third type of PAC, called "leadership PACs" are formed by politicians to help fund the campaigns of other politicians. Politicians often create leadership PACs in an effort to prove their party loyalty or to further their goal of being elected to a higher office.

Under federal election laws, PACs can legally contribute only $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. However, there is no limit to how much PACs can spend on advertising in support of candidates or in promotion of their agendas or beliefs. PACs must register with and file detailed financial reports of monies raised and spent to the Federal Election Commission.

How much do PACs contribute to candidates? The Federal Election Commissions reports that PACs raised $629.3 million, spent $514.9 million, and contributed $205.1 million to federal candidates from January 1, 2003 through June 30, 2004.

This represented a 27 percent increase in receipts when compared with 2002, while disbursements increased by 24 percent. Contributions to candidates were 13 percent higher than this point in the 2002 campaign. These changes were generally greater than the pattern of growth in PAC activity over the past several election cycles. This is the first election cycle conducted under the rules of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002.

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