I created a visualization using Federal Election Commission data. Here are the top five super PACs who contributed the most during 2011~2012. The super PACs are: Restore Our Future, Republican National Committee, Priorities USA Action, DNC Service Corporation, and Winning Our Future. The height of the bar shows the total contribution (in terms of dollars) made by a super PAC. The blue part of a bar denotes contribution made to a democrat candidate. The red part of a bar denotes a super PAC's contribution to a republican candidate. Now, I was surprised to see that both Restore Our Future and Republican National Committee contributed to both democrats and republicans. Is my visualization wrong or is there some stories here I didn't know?

enter image description here

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    You have a title/body mismatch. Do you want us to verify that it is ok for a PAC oganization to donate to both the Republicans and the Democrats (it is legal), or if your particular numbers are correct (who knows, you made the visualization. Supposedly using some data from some source. Why not provide the source instead of giving us your graphic?)
    – user1873
    Jan 28, 2014 at 4:58
  • Open Secrets puts RNC spending at about $66 million for 2011-2012 (not $45 million that you have it at). They also list $41 million in "Independent Expenditures against Democrats" (specifically Barack Obama), so perhaps that is what your "data" is showing as RNC "contributions <strike>to</strike>" [against] democrats. I would be surprised if the RNC is donating to Democrats, that doesn't make any sense.
    – user1873
    Jan 28, 2014 at 5:30
  • Yes, yes they can (and do) donate to both. Jan 29, 2014 at 17:50

2 Answers 2


I'm pretty sure you have a flaw in your data. This is what I get when I search for "Restore our Future" on this page:

enter image description here

To me, that looks like you're failing to account for the "Oppose" value in the "Support/Oppose" column. They spent millions on opposing Obama, but that still counts as spending money on him for filing purposes. You can't just flip the result, though, because slightly further down they have spending against the Republican Newt Gingrich. Better to break the data down into the four combinations:

  • Support / Republican -> Solid red
  • Support / Democrat -> Solid blue
  • Oppose / Republican -> Striped red
  • Oppose / Democrat -> Striped blue

As to the title question of whether a Super PAC can give to both sides, there is nothing to prevent them from doing so. The only restriction on how Super PACs spend their money is that they may only make Independent Expenditures:

An independent expenditure, in elections in the United States, is a political campaign communication that expressly advocates the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate that is not made in cooperation, consultation or concert with or at the request or suggestion of a candidate, candidate’s authorized committee or a political party.

Additionally, these Independent Expenditures can't be contributions directly to a candidate. (Further reading) (I assume in your question when you say contribution you actually mean expenditure on behalf of, since direct contributions aren't allowed.)

There would be little point in both supporting and opposing the same candidate, but nothing stops a single-issue SuperPAC from supporting anyone who espouses their views and opposing their opponents, regardless of affiliation.

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    "The only restriction on Super PACs is that they may only make independent expenditures." In our overly regulated society, I assure you that this claim is false.
    – user1873
    Jan 28, 2014 at 16:27
  • @user1873 - Well, yes. They also have to comply with FEC reporting standards, among other things. But it's the only significant restriction on what they can do with the money. I'll edit slightly.
    – Bobson
    Jan 28, 2014 at 16:39
  • @user1873 - I'm not seeing the issue. The only thing a superPAC can do with the money is make "independent expenditures". An independent expenditure is A) Not a donation to a candidate, B) not made with input from the candidate, and C) supports a candidate in a way that doesn't violate A or B. All three of which I mention. I don't see what you find missing.
    – Bobson
    Jan 28, 2014 at 19:05
  • @user1873 - Clarification added.
    – Bobson
    Jan 29, 2014 at 3:59
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    Better, but you might want to change, " Super PAC can give to both sides," to "Super PAC cannot give to either side, but they can make independent endorsements/oppositions of both sides candidates."
    – user1873
    Jan 29, 2014 at 6:00

It's called "hedging your bets" and is a common strategy amongst issue-related PACs.

Imagine, for example, if you are the NRA. You care about about guns, not parties.

  1. Not all Republicans are in favor of guns rights; not all democrats oppose it.

  2. Contributions are often the "price of admission" to see a member of Congress, but there are rules against any sort of quid pro quo. In seeking to lobby a member - even one with whom you disagree - creating events where the member can solicit contributions is a normal practice.

  3. Supplying significant funding to an even marginally "on-board" member creates a situation where the funder now has the ability to later curtail funds or threaten to support another candidate. Thus there is almost always an incentive to fund all but your most vocal critics.

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