PACs Account for More Than Half of 2016 Campaign Spending

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By Madi Alexander

July 5 — Political action committees are spending money faster than ever before, according to Federal Election Commission data analyzed by Bloomberg BNA.

PACs—including super PACs permitted to take in unlimited donations—accounted for more than half of all federal campaign dollars spent during the first 15 months of the 2016 election cycle.

The FEC's most recent statistical summary of campaign money covered contributions and spending in the current two-year election cycle through March 2016.

share of spending
PAC Spending Grows After Citizens United

In the 2012 presidential election—the first conducted after the Citizens United ruling—super PACs were responsible for only 6 percent of overall spending. As of the same point in 2016, super PAC spending made up 16 percent of overall spending—more than $529 million.

Super PACs—established after the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling and subsequent court rulings—can take in and spend unlimited amounts of money as long as their efforts are not coordinated with any campaigns. Traditional PACs receive limited contributions from individuals and can donate directly to candidates. Hybrid PACs are a blend of traditional and super PACs. They have separate accounts for independent expenditures and candidate contributions.

Even though super PAC expenditures are growing, traditional PACs still make up the bulk of all 2016 PAC spending with a total of $744 million—about $110 million more than in the 2012 presidential election cycle.

Candidate, Party Spending Fluctuates

Despite the share of party committee and congressional candidate expenditures reaching the lowest level since before 1992, the actual dollars being spent exceeded those disbursed in most recent elections except for 2012, according to the analysis.

Congressional candidates have spent about $43 million less this election cycle than in 2012. Party committees had a total of $502.8 million in expenditures as of this point in the 2012 cycle. Yet this year, they spent $492.6 million—a decrease of about $11 million.

Still, the overall share of spending for political party committees and congressional candidates has dropped. Party committees were responsible for 15 percent of overall spending this cycle, while congressional candidates were responsible for just 13 percent.

Presidential candidates, meanwhile, accounted for $671.8 million in spending during this election cycle, or 21 percent of overall expenditures.

Presidential candidates have spent almost twice as much in 2016 than in 2012, though much of that difference can be attributed to an incumbent presidential candidate running in the previous election cycle.

The presidential candidates spent $878.1 million in the first 15 months of the 2008 election—37 percent of federal campaign spending for the 15-month period. By this point in the 2016 election, presidential candidates have spent about $206.2 million less than in 2008.

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