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Real-Time Federal Campaign Finance

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Independent Expenditures, 2016 Cycle

Last update: Oct. 28, 2016 | 4:18 a.m.

All numbers are for the two-year cycle, from Jan. 1, 2015 through Dec. 31, 2016.

Total Independent Expenditures: $1.9 billion

The numbers on this page refer to "independent expenditures," the most important class of spending through which outside groups try to influence voters. Most of the money underwriting this spending—which includes TV ads, robocalls, mailers and even get out the vote efforts—comes from groups that aren't subject to contribution limits, like Super PACs and political nonprofits. Some do not report their donors at all. By law, these groups cannot "coordinate" with the candidate they are supporting or opposing, though those rules have been criticized as ineffectual. Party committees and traditional PACs may also make independent expenditures.

Positive vs Negative


Supporting a candidate: $491.4 million
Opposing a candidate: $1.1 billion

Groups making independent expenditures must indicate whether the action either supports or opposes the candidates; there's no option to say that a single communication does both. Some groups, however, seem to report a single ad buy in two parts. The determination of whether a communication is positive or negative is solely up to the submitting group and is not audited.

By targeted candidate's political party

Supports a Republican: $328.1 million
Supports a Democrat: $143.5 million
Opposes a Democrat: $416.7 million
Opposes a Republican: $639.8 million

The numbers above include all spending, including in the primaries, so it's not necessarily easy to impute party affiliation from these. Some of the ads targeting Republicans in the primary, for instance, were run by other GOP groups.

Spending group type

Super PACs: $1.2 billion
Party Committees: $230.7 million
Non-committees: $82.7 million
Other PACs: $104.5 million

Super PACs include "hybrid super PACs" and are not subject to contribution limits; Party committees include all party committees, not just the four major ones. Dark money groups are entities—typically 501(c)(4)s, but sometimes corporations, LLC's or individuals—that haven't registered as political groups with the FEC because they do not consider politics to be their "primary purpose". As such, these groups aren't required to report their donors, but do report their independent expenditures. These groups, it should be noted, are not required to report "issue ads" they run supporting or criticizing candidates more than 60 days before a general election or 30 days before a general election if the ads are not considered "express advocacy".Other PACs include traditional PACs which are subject to contribution limits.

By spending committee's political alignment

Leans Democratic: $None
Leans Republican: $None

The committees making independent expenditures are not required to declare their political affiliation; reporters at Sunlight have classified them based on their spending patterns. Approximately $1,619,000,581 in spending is not characterized as either leaning left or right.

House or Senate

Senate: $547.4 million
House: $305.2 million