Sunlight Foundation

Independent Expenditure Only Committees: Data Notes

Beginnning Jan. 31, Sunlight will be providing reporters and members of the public with downloadable .csv files summarizing information from the Federal Elections Commission about how super PACs are raising and spending their money as this data becomes available.

Some caveats:

  • While Jan. 31 is the filing deadline, it's likely that some reports won't be available until Feb. 1 or later.
  • In order to provide this information as quickly as possible, we're processing the raw reports as they are submitted to the FEC; no validation has taken place so it is possible there are errors.

Bottom line: This information is being made available in real time, so we cannot guarantee its accuracy! If you have any concerns about information presented, please double-check it with files from the FEC.


Since these files became available we've made two slight changes in who's included in the itemized donation files.

  • Initially we only listed contributions from individuals and organizations (those listed on line 11AI on form F3X), but as of Thursday Feb. 2 we began including contributions from other PACS.
  • On Feb. 6 we began including "Offsets To Operating Expenditures" (line 15 on Form F3X) as if it were a contribution. While the FEC doesn't count this money as a contribution (in that it it's excluded from line 11D), in practice it is being used by organizations to fund substantial parts of their operation. This kind of receipt is listed as 'Offsets To Operating Expenditure (line 15)' in the 'donor type' field of the downloadable .csv files.


Spending as it is presented in these .csv files is understood to mean independent expenditures, as reported in 24- and 48- reports, through the present. This means the campaign spending information on our chart is more up-to-date that the reports filed this week at the FEC, but less comprehensive. It does not include everything listed under "disbursements" in the FEC reports, such as salaries, office rentals and equipment. We are focusing here on what are commonly understood to be political expenditures made by independent committees. According to the FEC:

"Independent expenditures represent spending by individual people, groups, political committees, corporations or unions expressly advocating the election or defeat of clearly identified federal candidates. These expenditures may not be made in concert or cooperation with or at the request or suggestion of a candidate, the candidate's campaign or a political party.

"Any time up to 20 days before an election, if these independent expenditures by a person or organization aggregate more than $10,000 in a race they must be reported to the Commission before the end of the second day after the communication is publicly distributed. If the communications are distributed within the last 19 days before the election, the expenditure must be reported within one day if they aggregate more than $1,000 in any race."

The expenditures included here are those contained in the FEC's data disclosure catalog. See the FEC's independent expenditure page for more information.

Presidential super PAC spending is understood to mean the portion of independent expenditures used to expressly advocate a presidential candidate. A given PAC may split its independent expenditures between presidential and congressional races, so the presidential total may not reflect all, or even a sizable portion, of its overall spending.


Candidates and political action committees may amend reports made with the FEC. This tends to complicate efforts to sum spending and fundraising because the aggregate files do not unambiguously link revised lines to their originals. In theory an amended line should share the same transaction id with its corresponding original, but in practice these seem to differ. In the expenditures file, we've marked lines where an obvious duplicate couldn't be found with a "True" in the "unmatched amendment files". Original lines that were clearly matched to a subsequent amendment are not shown.


Contributions only appear in these files if were made before Dec. 31, 2011. Contributions prior to 2011 are not included, though these are relatively few. The first column, named "Donor Type" corresponds to the section of the FEC report they appear in: SA11AI lines are titled "Individual/Corporation"; SA11B are listed as "Political Party Committee" and SA11C is "Political Action Committee".

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