Sorry if this has already been addressed:

If I understand correctly, US corporations can make unlimited independent expenditures on US elections after Citizens United v. FEC. Again if I understand correctly, large corporate donations to super PACs require disclosure, unless a hard-to-get exception applies. If that's the case, what is the point of super PACs now?

My first thought would be that Goods Corporation doesn't want to run its own internal political operation while Services.com runs its own operation, etc., but then why don't they just get together and make a "normal" corporation/nonprofit that they both donate to, especially a 501(c)(4) or a media outlet?

Possible explanations I found/concocted:

  1. I thought this was a useful reference, but without further context I don't think it answered my question. On that page it says that "Dark Money" groups, by which I think they mean 501(c)(4)s, cannot have political activity as the majority of their expenditures. But even if that's right, I'm not sure how serious this constraint is. I can elaborate on why I have this doubt if asked.
  2. Maybe regulators see it as disingenuous for a non-super PAC nonprofit/corporation to be too political, so donors prefer super PACS in order not to draw regulator anger? I have no evidence for this.

Related speculative questions: Why don't Goods Corporation and Services.com just both give to the Townsville Post and print their views as news? Would that lose some tax benefits? Would that be an antitrust violation if they weren't careful? What if they bought their own newspaper? Are there rules about coordination between super PACs and their donors?

Related SE questions: https://politics.stackexchange.com/questions/9646/what-are-the-limitations-of-pac-and-super-pac-funding


1 Answer 1


PACs and "Dark Money" are not mutually exclusive. This may be the source of some of your confusion.

Per the Citizens United vs. FEC supreme court ruling, PACs do not have to divulge the source of their contributions in the same way that "normal" political campaigns do (as they were found to be "protected free speech"). Also, they are not limited in the amount of money they may spend during an election. In essence, a PAC is an end-around to our campaign finance laws in the U.S. (which are actually pretty strict...less this loophole). For example, PACs effectively negate Federal contribution limits.

A 501-C can be a PAC for all intents and purposes, they just have to say "our primary purpose is [insert cause], not politics....but we support [politician/politicians] because they align with our [insert cause]."

When FEC vs Citizens United was decided, the amount of contributions from amorphous organizations (unions, for example) went through the roof in a few years. At this point, there's no telling who owns who in Washington.


  • Aha, thanks @AVLien, that makes sense. So it sounds like the main reason to use a super PAC instead of a 501(c)(4) is just that you don't have to do the stunt you described where you claim to primarily support a cause, rather than engaging in politics?
    – capet
    Oct 22, 2020 at 3:19

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