The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

PACs spent more at state level than on federal campaigns

Political action committees spent more money on state-level candidates in just 23 states during the 2012 election cycle than they did on federal candidates in all 50 states, according to a new analysis.

The analysis from the Sunlight Foundation shows state-level PACs dished out $1.4 billion to candidates running for governor, attorney general, state legislative and other non-federal offices in those states. All told, PACs spent $1.2 billion on federal candidates.

State PACs do not have to report their spending to the Federal Election Commission. Instead, they report to campaign finance organizations in the states in which they spend money, all of which have different rules for reporting, disclosure and spending.

The Sunlight Foundation analyzed data from states that made campaign finance information readily available online. Four states — Missouri, Oregon, Utah and Virginia — allow unlimited contributions from PACs to party committees or candidates. Nineteen others make their data readily available.

But the fact that PAC spending in just 23 states already surpasses federal spending offers a remarkable window into the massive amounts of money flowing into non-federal elections, and to the identities of those who finance state elections.

The California Health Foundation and Trust, for example, is a 501(c)(3) organization affiliated with the California Hospital Association. It gave $12 million to candidates at the state level, but not a penny to federal candidates. Four labor unions, including the National Education Association, SEIU, AFSCME and the AFL-CIO, gave a combined $36 million to state candidates that wasn’t required to be reported by the FEC.

Individuals also used state PACs to give heavily. Rex Sinquefield, a Missouri investor, and his wife Jeanne gave more than $1.5 million to federal Republican candidates in the last three election cycles, and another $3.7 million more to state candidates, according to the report. Charles Munger Jr., a physicist at Stanford and the son of Warren Buffett’s business partner, donated $2.18 million to federal candidates in the last several cycles and another $4.4 million to state and local candidates.

Most states prohibit corporate donations to candidates, but many allow those businesses to hand their cash to a political action committee. The Sunlight Foundation found more than 600 companies gave at least $5,000 in the 2012 cycle. The largest corporate givers include Chevron, which donated more than $3.3 million; the National Association of Realtors and Farmers Insurance, both of which gave at least $1.5 million; the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the Florida Chamber of Commerce and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, all of which gave about $1 million.