Were independent expenditures new?

Independent expenditures were not new. By the 1980s, political committees that claimed to be independent of candidates and parties had been making such expenditures for decades. But the formation of ideological PACs to make such expenditures was new. One of the first such PACs, and the one that got the most attention, was the National Conservative Political Action Committee (NCPAC), which used its funds against moderate Republicans as well as Democrats.

NCPAC's methods raised even more concern than its money. PAC chair Terry Dolan explained how an independent spending group could attack its favorite candidates' opponents while leaving the candidates themselves blameless for running a negative campaign: "A group like ours could lie through its teeth, and the candidate it helps stays clean."14

There was nothing reformers could do about such groups. PACs had been legalized under the FECA, which meant they were part of a statute that could be amended. Unlimited independent expenditures, though, were the creation of the Supreme Court, which wrote them into constitutional law, and constitutional law is not easily amended.

NCPAC was also a new kind of PAC, one of a growing number of PACs that did not have sponsors. In 1974 all PACs were what are now called "connected," meaning they were sponsored by an organization, usually a labor union; the corporate and other business PACs that appeared in the late 1970s were also of this type. As early as 1977, though, the Federal Election Commission had to create a new "non-connected" category for the growing number of political committees that had no sponsoring organizations. These two types of committees made up the two categories that are still used to define PACS: connected and nonconnected.

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