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US election words of the week: PAC and super PAC

 © PhotoDiscIn this series we are looking at some of the language and terminology associated with the US electoral process in the run-up to the Presidential election in late 2016. This week’s words are PAC and super PAC.

In 2012 it cost Barack Obama and Mitt Romney an estimated one billion dollars each to run for President of the United States (and it cost an estimated $40-50 million just to launch a campaign in 2016). Since elections generally get more expensive each time, it is reckoned that the total cost of the 2016 campaign will be even higher. With sums like these required, candidates – even those who are personally wealthy – have to do a lot of serious fundraising.



A PAC (which stands for Political Action Committee and is pronounced like pack) is an organization that raises money privately to give to a candidate or party at an election. However, there is a limit, currently $5,000, on the amount that can be given directly to a candidate for each election (with primaries and general elections counting as separate elections) and the same limit on the amount that can be raised from any individual in a calendar year.

One solution to this is the super PACs, officially called independent-expenditure only committees, which can raise unlimited amounts of money but are not allowed to spend it directly on candidates’ campaigns or parties, or to coordinate directly with them. Since they are, however, allowed to pour their funds into supporting particular candidacies, through advertising or direct communication with electors, many regard their existence as a convenient fudge devised to get round the stringent rules governing PACs.

Look out for the next post in this series. You can find past posts on the language of American politics here and here, or search for other posts in this series using the tag US politics.

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Liz Potter

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