WASHINGTON — While much of the public’s attention is focused on the flood of donations to independent 527 groups, recently released campaign finance data shows that political action committees have also enjoyed a steep increase in fundraising following the enactment of a federal soft-money ban.
Federal PACs raked in $629.3 million by the end of June, a 27 percent increase over the same period in the 2002 election cycle, according to freshly released data from the Federal Election Committee.
Spending by PACs increased by 24 percent, to $514.9 million, while federal committees contributed $205.1 million to candidates’ campaigns — a 13 percent increase over the 2002 campaign — by the end of June.
Four months out before Election Day the groups still had nearly $300 million in cash available. That’s 28 percent more than the groups had on hand at the same point two years earlier.
The data also found the total number of federally registered PACs had skyrocketed to 4,713, a 15-year high point.
“These changes were generally greater than the pattern of growth in PAC activity over the past several election cycles,” the FEC said in a news release, adding that the period studied marks the first cycle that followed passage of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002.
BCRA outlawed party soft money, cracked down on some issue advertising and increased individual contribution limits to candidates’ campaigns. The law did not change the $5,000 limit on contributions to multicandidate political action committees.
PACs maintaining both hard- and soft-money accounts also reported transferring $38 million in soft money into their federal accounts to help pay for joint expenses related to federal, state and local elections. The bulk of these transfers were made by a few Democratic-leaning committees including America Coming Together, which made $27 million in transfers; EMILY’s List, which made $6.7 million in transfers; and Democratic Victory 2004, which moved $1.2 million in soft money.
America Coming Together, commonly known as ACT, has generated controversy for funding its activities with 98 percent soft money and only 2 percent hard dollars — a split that, because of recent FEC action, will not be possible during the next campaign cycle.
The FEC recently issued new regulations requiring that in 2005, 527s such as ACT that are splitting certain expenses between hard- and soft-money accounts must use a minimum of at least 50 percent federal funds.
FEC data shows while 46 PACs each raised more than $2 million during this campaign cycle, the top-earning PAC raised 10 times that amount.
EMILY’s List, a group dedicated to electing pro-choice women, topped the rankings with more than $20 million in receipts, even as the group’s president, Ellen Malcolm, was concentrating her efforts on other 527-based efforts.
Employees of the Service Employees International Union Committee — headed by Andy Stern, a leading figure in the labor movement — raised close to $10 million.
The American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees PAC raised about $9 million, while the Teamsters’ PAC, known as DRIVE, pulled in just under $9 million during the first 18 months of the election cycle.
The National Rifle Association’s PAC was the biggest dollar recipient among conservative-leaning political committees, pulling in slightly more than $8.8 million from gun supporters.
The United Auto Workers PAC ranked sixth among all committees, with $7.7 million in contributions. The PAC affiliated with the liberal group MoveOn.org raised slightly more than $7 million, while the National Association of Realtors PAC pulled in close to $6.2 million.
Rounding out the top 10 were the Republican Issues Campaign, with approximately $6 million in receipts, and the American Federation of Teachers’ PAC, which raised about $5.9 million.