Tracking Down Secrect Campaign Funds Spent in Super PACs

Media Contacts
Sonia Ashe

Iowa PIRG Education Fund

Des Moines, IA – Today Iowa PIRG Education Fund and Demos released a new analysis of the funding sources for the campaign finance behemoths, Super PACs. The findings confirmed what many have predicted in the wake of the Supreme Court’s damaging Citizens United decision: since their inception in 2010, Super PACs have been primarily funded by a small segment of very wealthy individuals and business interests, with a small but significant amount of funds coming from secret sources.

“Super PACs represent much of what is wrong with American democracy rolled neatly into one package,” explained Iowa PIRG advocate Sonia Ashe. “They are tools that powerful special interests can use to work their will by drowning out the voices of ordinary Iowans in a sea of sometimes secret cash.”

“Super PACs are like kryptonite for our democracy,” added Demos Democracy Counsel Adam Lioz.  “They undermine core principles of political equality in favor of a bully-based system where the strength of a citizen’s voice depends upon the size of her wallet.”

Some of the most striking findings in the report are:

— 17% percent of all Super PAC money in 2010 and 2011 came from for-profit business treasuries.

–6.4% of the itemized funds raised by Super PACs since 2010 was “secret money,” not feasibly traceable to its original source. A month-to-month analysis of spending in 2010 and 2011 suggests that the months leading up to the 2012 election will see an unprecedented surge in secret money.

— Of all itemized contributions from individuals to Super PACs, 93% came in contributions of at least $10,000.   Only 726 individuals, or 23 out of every 10 million people in the U.S., made a contribution this large to a Super PAC. More than half of itemized Super PAC money came from just 37 people giving at least $500,000.

In Auctioning Democracy, Demos and Iowa PIRG offer recommendations for pushing back on the influence of Super PACs, specifically tailored to the Federal Election Commission, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the White House, the United States Congress, State Legislatures and even Municipal Governments.

“The Securities and Exchange Commission must act immediately to force publicly traded corporations to disclose their political spending,” said Ashe.

Iowa’s Senator Harkin recently joined 14 of his colleagues in calling for more transparency by petitioning the SEC to establish new rules requiring full public disclosure of corporate political spending.

“Ultimately, the people must rise up and amend our Constitution to make perfectly clear that the First Amendment is not a tool for use by large corporations and wealthy donors to dominate the political process,” added Mr. Lioz.

Auctioning Democracy includes a both the report and series of infographics, available for use (with attribution).

Adam Lioz of Demos and Sonia Ashe of Iowa PIRG co-authored the report and data. They are available for comment, please see the contact information above.


Iowa PIRG Education Fund conducts research and public education on behalf of consumers and the public interest. Our research, analysis, reports and outreach serve as counterweights to the influence of powerful special interests that threaten our health, safety or well-being.