‘Super PAC’ is now an official part of the English language

It's official: 'Super PAC' is now in the dictionary. The Merriam-Webster online unabridged edition, to be precise.


Interns working for the "Ready For Hillary" Super PAC stuff envelops with bumber stickers on behalf of undeclared US presidential candidate and former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, July 11, 2013 at a shopping center in Alexandria, Virginia. AFP PHOTO/Paul J. RichardsPAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images

Here's the entry (and thanks to the Center for Public Integrity for flagging):

Super PAC, noun: a type of political action committee that is legally permitted to raise and spend larger amounts of money than the amounts allowed for a conventional PAC; specifically: an independent PAC that can accept unlimited contributions from individuals and organizations (such as corporations and labor unions) and spend unlimited amounts in support of a candidate but that cannot directly contribute money to or work directly in concert with the candidate it is supporting.

It's been a rapid rise for the super PAC, which didn't exist prior to the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling in January 2010. As a Congressional Research Service paper on super PACs notes:

Super PACs emerged after the U.S. Supreme Court permitted unlimited corporate and union spending on elections in January 2010 (Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission). Although not directly addressed in that case, related, subsequent litigation (SpeechNow v. Federal Election Commission) and Federal Election Commission (FEC) activity gave rise to a new form of political committee. These entities, known as super PACs or independent-expenditure-only committees (IEOCs), have been permitted to accept unlimited contributions and make unlimited expenditures aimed at electing or defeating federal candidates. Super PACs may not contribute funds directly to federal candidates or parties.

So, where did the word 'super PAC' actually come from? (And, yes, we miss William Safire badly at moments just like these.)  There is no mention of the term in the SpeechNow vs FEC case nor does "super PAC" come up in the Citizens United case. As best as we can tell, credit for "super PAC" goes to a reporter -- we won something! -- who first used the term as shorthand to describe the decidedly verbally cumbersome independent-expenditure only committee.  Wrote Dave Levinthal in Politico back in January 2012: [Eliza Newlin] Carney, a Roll Call reporter, made the first identifiable, published reference to 'super PAC' as it’s known today while working at National Journal, prophetically writing on June 26, 2010, of a group called Workers’ Voices — a kind of “’super PAC’ that could become increasingly popular in the post-Citizens United world.”

By September 2010, the Washington Post was using the word. As WaPo's Dan Eggen wrote in late September 2010: "A new political weapon known as the 'super PAC' has emerged in recent weeks, allowing independent groups to both raise and spend money at a pace that threatens to eclipse the efforts of political parties."

And the rest is history. Check out this handy little chart courtesy of Google -- it's an Internet company -- that tracks the mentions of the phrase "super PAC" over time.

Judging by the amount of money already being poured into super PACs -- for 2014 and even potential 2016 races -- that dictionary entry is going to get longer and soon.

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.
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