What do ideological PACs do?
They make contributions and independent expenditures, just as other PACs do. But all the expenses that are covered by the sponsoring organizations of connected PACs—salaries, administrative expenses, even the cost of fundraising—must be paid for out of the money that nonconnected PACs raise.
Look, for example, at how much money the two biggest ideological PACs raised in 2012 and how they spent it. The liberal PAC
MoveOn Political Action raised almost $20 million. It spent $1.2 million on independent expenditures in the presidential election, for Obama and against Romney, and it gave $7 million in contributions to mostly federal candidates; but it also spent $11.5 million for administrative expenses, salaries, and fundraising. The Tea Party Express's Our Country Deserves Better PAC raised $10.2 million. It spent $700,000 on independent expenditures and gave about $300,000 to Mitt Romney and to Republican senatorial candidates; but it spent more than $9 million on fundraising, administration, and salaries.20
The only other committees to raise more than $5 million in 2012 were Democracy for America, a liberal PAC, and the Conservative StrikeForce. Democracy for America spent $4.7 million on fundraising, administration, and salaries, but made no independent expenditures and gave only $400,000 in contributions. The Conservative StrikeForce spent $700,000 on independent expenditures and contributions, and $5 million on fundraising, administration, and salaries.21
The ideological PACs get a lot of media attention, but many of them may not deserve it. Raising enough money to keep the PAC going and still be able give out meaningful amounts of money is clearly a huge challenge. The total amount of money they raise is not a good guide to how much they give to or spend on behalf of candidates.