California eyes federal ‘Super PACs’

Money in the halls of power. (Illustration: Kentoh)

Transparency is undermined when states rely on the federal government rather than their own disclosure regimes. As more federal Super PACs target down-ballot races, states find themselves ill equipped to ensure full disclosure of all independent spending.

Federal agencies are not designed to serve as disclosure vehicles for state-level political spending, which makes it impossible to identify the donors and any independent spending in a given state. Two examples illustrate this point:

  • Patriots for America, a federal Super PAC, was active in Missouri’s 2016 gubernatorial race. Although the group funded advertisements opposing now-Governor Eric Greitens in the Republican primary, Patriots for America did not report its spending to the Missouri Ethics Commission. And its information filed with the FEC was woefully inadequate, because federal Super PACs are not required to identify targeted non-federal candidates on FEC forms.
  • In Iowa, the state requires 527 organizations to disclose “issue advocacy” communications (which identify candidates but do not explicitly tell voters how to vote) to the Iowa Ethics Commission. The state merely re-posts reports submitted to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) — but the national reports filed with the IRS do not reveal who funded the activities in any given state, nor do they reveal the targets of the spending and if the spending was made in support or in opposition.

At least one state has forged ahead to address this issue: California established a separate classification for federal Super PACs to better facilitate disclosure of activities in state elections. Once a Super PAC raises $2,000 or more to influence a race for state office, it must file reports with the state that clearly identify both the funding behind the activity as well as detailed information about the specific political activity, including target and position.

As other states grapple with an increasingly nationalized state political landscape, the Institute urges other states to follow California’s lead and update their laws and requirements to capture these spenders.

Ed’s Note: This story originally appeared here on the website of, which tracks political spending.  

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