PACs Made Up Nearly Half of 2016 Election Spending

By Madi Alexander

Political action committees received and spent a record amount of money in the 2016 campaign cycle, according to Federal Election Commission data analyzed by Bloomberg BNA.

PACs—including super PACs permitted to take in unlimited donations—accounted for slightly more than 48 percent of all federal campaign donations received during the 2016 election. PACs altogether raised slightly more than $4 billion during the 2016 campaign cycle.

The FEC’s most recent statistical summary of campaign money covered contributions and spending in the two-year election cycle from January 2015 to December 2016.

Super PAC Spending Grows

In the 2012 election—the first conducted after the Citizens United ruling—super PACs were responsible for about 11 percent of overall federal election spending, or about $820 million adjusted for inflation.

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.

During the 2016 election cycle, super PACs spent about $1.8 billion—more than a fifth of all federal campaign spending. That’s about $985 million more than in the previous presidential election cycle.

Even though super PAC spending is on the rise, traditional and hybrid PACs still account for the bulk of political action committee expenditures. Traditional and hybrid PACS together accounted for one of every four dollars spent on federal campaigns in the 2016 cycle.

Candidate, Party Spending Drops

Presidential candidates, congressional candidates and political party committees all spent slightly less in 2016 than in some previous elections despite an overall increase in federal campaign spending.

Party committees spent about $1.6 billion during the 2016 election—about $67 million less than in 2012. Party spending in recent presidential election cycles peaked in 2004 at around $1.8 billion.

Congressional campaign expenditures also fell slightly, down to $1.6 billion in 2016 from $1.9 billion in 2012. Congressional candidates spent about 16 percent less in 2016 than in 2012—a difference of about $305 million. Congressional races made up the largest share of federal campaign spending behind political action committees, accounting for about one of every five dollars spent on the election last year.

Presidential candidates doled out nearly $1.5 billion during the last election cycle, down from the $1.8 billion spent during the 2008 election. Spending on the presidential race accounted for the smallest share of money spent on the election—about 17 percent of all federal campaign dollars.

To contact the reporter on this story: Madi Alexander in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at

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