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political action committee

political action committee (PAC), U.S. organization formed by a corporation, labor union, or association to raise money for political activity. Funds can be gathered by voluntary contributions from members, employees, or shareholders. Political action committees were first organized in the 1940s. The Political Action Committee organized by the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) in 1943 was a model for later PACs. The election reform of 1974 limited individual campaign contributions and set guidelines for PACs; a Supreme Court ruling in 2010 ended restrictions on their funding. Many PACs represent special-interest groups, e.g., the National Rifle Association of America; others represent large conservative or liberal coalitions. Others are aligned with individual political campaigns, though their efforts cannot be coordinated with those of the candidate's campaign. Many PACs have directed their contributions toward congressional elections, in which they can contribute up to $5,000 to a candidate for each campaign (primary, runoff, and general election). Some, however, conduct independent negative campaigns against candidates they oppose, both in primary and general elections. Federal legislation enacted in 2002 barred attacks on candidates by name immediately before an election, but that rule was eased by a Supreme Court decision in 2007. Since the Court decision of 2010 that eased fund-raising restrictions on PACs, groups known as super PACs have arisen; these seek large, unlimited donations, often from a few wealthy contributors, and have tended to work for the election of a specific candidate.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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