How Do PACs Raise Money?

Bonafide staples of the American political landscape, political action committees (PACs) raise funds to support candidates, legislation, and political causes. An important question, however, lies in understanding how PACs raise money, and the answer is crucial for anyone interested in politics, campaign finance, or the democratic process.

With that in mind, we invite you to join us as we dive into the world of PAC fundraising. 

What Is a PAC?

First and foremost, a PAC is an organization that collects and donates money to political campaigns, candidates, and parties. Most PACs represent a specific set of business, ideological, or labor interests, and they are able to give $5,000 to a candidate committee per election. They can also provide up to $5,000 annually to any other PAC and up to $15,000 per year to a national party committee.

Sources of PAC Contributions

Any one PAC can not donate more than $5,000 to a candidate per calendar year, but PACs themselves can receive funds from as many donors as they like. As such, PAC funding can originate from any of the following sources:

Individual Contributions

The most common way in which PACs raise money is through individual contributions, donations that come from people who support the PAC’s cause or objectives. By law, individuals can only contribute up to $5,000 per year to a single PAC. 

Fundraisers often solicit these contributions through direct mail campaigns, fundraising events, online platforms, and social media campaigns, though meet-and-greets with political figures in the form of talks or dinners are also powerful fundraising tools. 

Corporate and Union Donations

A subset of PACs known as Separate Segregated Funds (SSFs) are established by corporations, labor unions, or trade associations. These organizations can receive contributions from the sponsoring organization’s employees or members, but the corporation or union treasury cannot give directly. 

SSFs are a powerful fundraising mechanism, but the associated process is complex, and SSFs must exercise due care to comply with federal and state laws. That means ensuring that members are making donations voluntarily and adhering to contribution limits, all while adhering to strict reporting requirements. 

Super PACs and Unlimited Contributions

Super PACs, officially known as independent expenditure-only committees, can spend and raise unlimited amounts of money to advocate against or for political candidates, accepting unlimited donations from individuals, corporations, and labor unions.

The rise of Super PACs has reshaped the fundraising landscape, causing spending on political advertising and campaign activities to skyrocket. These entities can influence elections and political discourse through nationwide advertising campaigns that encompass a variety of channels, including social media and traditional mediums. 

Online Fundraising

Online fundraising has become increasingly important for PACs, leading them to use email campaigns, social media advertising, and crowdfunding platforms to reach a broad audience quickly and cost-effectively. Online donations may be generally smaller, but they can add up over time. 

Nevertheless, social media platforms are perhaps the most effective online fundraising tool. By creating compelling content and targeted ads, PACs can tap into networks of potential donors who share their political views or interests, and once they have built a strong social following, they can maintain their momentum in and out of campaign season, allowing for consistent fund generation. 

Merchandising

Selling branded merchandise is another way in which PACs raise funds. Items like t-shirts, hats, bumper stickers, and other memorabilia not only generate revenue but also help in promoting the PAC’s cause, helping recruit others to the cause and maximizing visibility.

Effective merchandising relies on strong branding, so PACs often use slogans, logos, or symbols that resonate with their target audience to create a sense of identity and community among supporters. Barack Obama’s slogans “Yes We Can” and “Change We Can Believe In” and George H.W. Bush’s “Read My Lips, No New Taxes” were featured on all sorts of merchandise sold across the country during their campaigns, demonstrating the power of effective branding. 

Major Donor Solicitation

PACs often target major donors, individuals capable of making large contributions. Building relationships with these people involves personalized outreach, exclusive events, and direct communication about the impact of their contributions; it requires not only a clear understanding of the donor’s interests and motivations but also an alignment of those factors with the PAC’s objectives and activities. 

Grassroots Fundraising

Grassroots fundraising focuses on small contributions from a large number of individuals in a way that is similar to crowdfunding. Each person may only be donating a few dollars, but if a PAC can encourage thousands of donors to contribute, they can generate a sizable amount of money. 

A grassroots approach requires diligence and a strong online presence, and PACs must also rely on word-of-mouth, local events, and volunteer activities. Nevertheless, the approach can be highly effective, especially for PACs that are supporting hot-button topics that constituents are passionate about. 

Getting Started With PAC Fundraising

Regardless of what your PAC seeks to raise funds for, its success hinges on the quality of the data you and your team gather. You need access to accurate information so that you can target and persuade donors to support your cause. 

As a leader in political data, Aristotle can provide actionable insights that help you achieve your fundraising goals. As an Aristotle client, you’ll enjoy access to over 250 million consumer files and more than 235 million voter files. We can also provide more than one million monthly mover records, giving you the chance to connect with new supporters when they relocate to your area. 

Connect with Aristotle today to learn more.


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