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Stealth PACs

Methodology:

This project chronicles election spending by – and contributions to – organizations using large campaign contributions from corporations, unions and wealthy individuals to influence the 2010 elections.

Groups that are not party committees or candidate campaign committees must report election spending to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) as either “independent expenditures” or “electioneering communications.” Independent expenditures are defined as expenditures explicitly intended to influence the outcome of a federal election. These expenses, often for advertisements, are known as “express advocacy” because they expressly urge a vote for or against a candidate. Electioneering communications, known informally as “issue ads,” are messages broadcast within 60 days of a general election or 30 days of a primary that mention a candidate for federal office but stop short of advocating a vote for or against the candidate.

Some organizations also report the funders of their election ads. The 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA), commonly known as McCain-Feingold, flatly requires disclosure of the funders for both independent expenditures and electioneering communications. But in late 2007, the FEC created a gaping loophole in that requirement in response to a Supreme Court ruling that freed corporations to begin airing “issue ads” near elections. We reported on the erosion of disclosure in September.

About the Data in This Project

  • For expenditures on candidates who were involved in both a primary and a general election this year, we inferred from the date of the expenditure the contest to which it applied.

  • Many disclosure reports provide a single dollar amount for multiple candidates, without providing a breakdown by candidate. In those cases, we divided the total amount spent by the number of candidates mentioned in the report. We do not have a means of determining the correct proportion of spending that went to each candidate.

  • Groups that have received $5,000 or less from each of their funders are omitted. This cutoff provides a good approximation of the groups that are taking advantage of the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC to spend unlimited money – whether individual, union, or corporate – on election advocacy. Some groups that have accepted only $5,000 from each source might have received some of that money from corporations or unions. We intend to research that question and, time permitting, we will add those groups to the database.

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