Navigating the World of Political Action Committees: 7 Types of PACs

Just about everyone who’s involved in the world of politics has heard of a political action committee (PAC). It’s also well-known that PACs are involved with political fundraising and donating money to specific candidates or causes. However, there are numerous types and sizes of PACs, which is where things get a bit muddy.

Some broad government regulations apply to virtually every PAC. However, there are also rule subsets for each category of political action committee. Suppose that you are planning a political fundraising campaign or looking for ways to build fiscal support for your candidate. You should familiarize yourself with the various types of PACs. 

What Is a PAC?

A PAC is an organization that collects funds from members or donors and then uses that money to support or oppose political candidates, legislation, or ballot initiatives. Think of it like a wallet for political spending. PACs are tools for people with common interests to pool their resources and have a louder voice in the political arena.

While PAC funds are subject to some strict regulations, the law allows these action committees to support candidates and causes in a wide range of areas. For instance, PAC funds could be used to pay for marketing, purchase supplies for volunteers, or cover the costs of any other legitimate political activity. 

7 Types of PACs

Political action committees date back to 1944 and represent one of the first formalized tools for funding U.S. political endeavors. However, they’re not the Wild West of fundraising — there are many rules that apply to them. 

For instance, they can only donate up to $5,000 to a candidate per election and $15,000 to a political party each year. These limits keep things somewhat balanced. 

Since the creation of the original PAC 80 years ago, numerous variations of the political action committee have emerged. Some of the most notable types of PACs include:

Separate Segregated Funds (SSFs)

SSFs are PACs created and run by corporations, trade associations, membership organizations, or labor unions. These committees can only solicit contributions from individuals associated with the sponsoring organization. 

For instance, a labor union can only solicit donations from members. They must keep these donations separate from mandatory union dues or any other financial resources. Also, contributions must be voluntary. 

Nonconnected Committees 

Nonconnected committees are quite different from SSFs. Most notably, they aren’t sponsored or connected to any of the entities we mentioned above. As such, they are free to solicit donations from the general public.

Typically, nonconnected committees are linked to an issue rather than a political candidate. By rallying people around a particular issue that they are passionate about, such as women’s rights, nonconnected committees cast a wide fundraising net. 

Hybrid PACs

Hybrid PACs are like the Swiss Army knives of the PAC world. They operate both as a traditional PAC and a Super PAC. How? They have two separate bank accounts: one for direct candidate contributions (with the usual limits) and another for independent expenditures (in other words: unlimited spending).

Hybrid PACs use the first account for all of the traditional political action committee activities, such as donating to candidates, covering campaign expenses, etc. The unlimited spending account is used for generic voter drives, financing independent political expenditures, etc. 

Super PACs

Super PACs are one of the most widely used and powerful types of political action committees. These emerged after a couple of major court rulings in 2010, including the infamous Citizens United v. FEC

Super PACs can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money, but they can’t directly donate to or coordinate with the candidates they support. 

They can overtly and openly advocate for a political candidate or run marketing campaigns against someone they oppose. However, they can’t coordinate with the political candidates they are supporting or donate directly to them. 

Leadership PACs

Leadership PACs are established, maintained, and funded by someone holding federal office or a candidate for such an office. Members of Congress and other elected federal officials often create leadership PACs to support candidates for various non-federal and federal offices. 

For instance, a sitting U.S. Senator might establish a leadership PAC to support a fellow party member who is running for the second Senate seat in their home state. 

Association PACs

Association PACs are composed of several smaller groups, like unions or guilds. They can have thousands of members, which may include individuals or entire companies. 

Association PAC members are always connected by the industry they operate within or the type of work they do. For instance, a PAC made up of teachers and teachers’ unions might support laws requiring higher pay for educators. 

Corporate PACs 

A corporate PAC is established by a collective of businesses. The entity collects contributions from stakeholders, executives, or employees. The goal is to support candidates who align with the member organizations’ business interests. 

Typically, corporate PACs have a very narrow and focused agenda. For instance, they might support a policy or candidate who is in favor of tax legislation that would benefit their industry’s profitability. 

Empower Your PAC With Aristotle

When creating a political action committee, it’s vital that you choose the right structure and format based on your long-term goals. 

Enter Aristotle, a leader in political data. We provide clients with access to millions of data files, as well as smart solutions meant to unlock the value of our data insights. Explore our PAC consulting services to learn more.

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