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Spending to Influence: Political Action Committees


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This section analyzes the financial activity of certain political action committees (“PAC”), also known as “general purpose committees,” in San Francisco during the June and November 2014 elections. 

The user is able to examine overall contributions received and expenditures made by specific PACs. This page gives an overall snapshot of PAC finances, and the following pages allow the user to look at who gives to PACs, how much they give, and what kinds of activities the PACs fund.

See the visual below to explore information about PACs and some conclusions that can be drawn from the relevant data.

What is a Political Action Committee?

“PAC” is the popular term for political groups that raise and spend money to influence elections.  Although there are technically a few different types of PACs, the term often refers to what are known as “general purpose committees” under California law, which are ongoing political groups that support or oppose a variety of candidates and ballot measures.  PAC contributors commonly share an affiliation and PACs are often the political arm of a trade association, labor union, or other membership organization.  Making political expenditures over several years, PACs often establish themselves as key players in San Francisco politics.

PACs may attempt to influence San Francisco elections through contributions directly to candidates and measures or through independent spending on mass mailers, billboards, TV ads, etc.  Contributions to City candidates are limited to $500 per contributor; there are otherwise no caps on PAC spending in City elections.  PACs active in San Francisco file campaign reports with the Ethics Commission, which posts information from the reports on its website.


Over $2 million was received in contributions by 69 active PACs in 2014.  The majority of monetary contributions to PACs come from business entities and individual donors, with peak giving occurring shortly before the June primary and the November general elections.  The most significant PAC expenditure activity was in the form of monetary contributions to specific candidates or ballot measure committees.

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