New Super PAC Tracking Tools from Sunlight

Announcement via email:

The Sunlight Foundation added new features to our Follow the Unlimited Money tracker to make it easier for you to compare spending by and donations to super PACs and other outside groups this election season. You can now sort our data to easily identify super PACs’ spending and fundraising by political orientation, easily view charts that map spending trends and get instant tallies and downloadable data files of all of the above. You will also be able to embed these charts on your own site. (That feature should be live later today.)
Contributions by Party:
In our analysis of filings from the start of 2011 through June 30 (released Friday), we found that right-leaning super PACs topped their Democratic rivals by a factor of nearly three-to-one. In the first eighteen months of the presidential election cycle, Republican-oriented Super PACs brought in about $230 million while Democratic-leaning super PACs raised less than $80 million. Democratic super PACs may have been greatly outspent so far, but their Republican-aligned rivals spent the largest share of their money attacking other GOP primary candidates. Through July 22, GOP Super PACs had spent almost $124 million–but about $60 million of that went to negative ads about other Republicans. In contrast, just $18.6 million went to negative ads about Democrats ($45.5 million went to ads supporting Republicans).
Super PACs do not officially declare their allegiance to any political parties, so we did the research so you can easily identify these groups’ political orientation when reporting on their spending or donors.

Union vs. Business Contributions:
In another analysis, Sunlight’s Jacob Fenton examined the $61.8 million in organizations’ contributions to super PACs from the beginning of last year through the end of June, and found that businesses have given more than $33 million to super PACs since the beginning of this campaign cycle. Trade unions gave at least $15 million in the same time period. The $33 million that businesses contributed to super PACs likely represents a fraction of their efforts to influence the outcome of the November elections. That’s because donations to super PACs are just one avenue for corporations and labor unions to give to groups trying to sway the results of this year’s elections, and for many it is the least attractive option.

Republican-aligned super PACs received the lion’s share of business contributions, taking in just under $30 million. That dwarfed the $3.8 million that their Democratic-leaning counterparts received from business. Yet the gap may be narrowing ahead of the general election: Left-leaning super PACs raised almost $1.2 million from business in June, while super PACs siding with the GOP raised $4.5 million.

Notably, a number of well-known brands have given to GOP-allied super PACs, including:

  • Waffle House ($100,000 to American Crossroads)
  • 7-Eleven ($25,000 to Hoosiers for Jobs)
  • White Castle ($25,000 to the Congressional Leadership Fund)
  • Borden Dairy Company ($25,000 to Congressional Leadership Fund).

There’s no comparable set of businesses donating to left-leaning super PACs, but Working Assets, a phone service affiliated with CREDO mobile that bills itself as donating to “progressive” causes, has given over $440,000 to Credo Super PAC.

The biggest union donors have given exclusively to left-leaning super PACs:

  • the National Education Association ($5.1 million)
  • the AFL-CIO ($2.2 million)
  • Communications Workers of America ($1.7 million)
  • the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees ($1.4 million).
Be sure to read the complete analysis for more details, links to charts and downloadable data files.
Our goal is to provide the best, most timely free data on election spending so you can spend your time tracking down sources and reporting. If there are additional features that would improve your ability to report, please let me know.
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