7 things we learned from the newly reported ‘SuperPAC Capitol Hill’ in 2018

Congress’ intraparty, grassroots SuperPACs remain a mystery.

Washington’s pubic watchdog of congressional spending — Americans for Tax Reform — released new reports (PDF) for its two favorite backers of conservative legislation and advocacy. It’s fairly normal for these kinds of reports to air for a few weeks, but there were three newly released reports this year, and they contain multiple new information.

Congressional SuperPACs are political nonprofits that can accept unlimited corporate and PAC contributions. Groups like Americans for Tax Reform can also raise and spend unlimited amounts on so-called “issue ads,” targeting those who oppose or are independent of their preferred candidate. In April, for example, the SuperPACs for Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and the House Majority PAC ran ads attacking two House Republican incumbents for opposing President Trump’s Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh. The groups’ reported spending was about $3.4 million, and it also spent $870,000 to work against Rep. Dave Brat, R-Va., and spent another $581,000 on ads against Rep. Darren Soto, D-Fla.

The SuperPACs for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and the Senate Leadership Fund jointly ran ads on behalf of incumbents including Sens. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Ron Johnson, R-Wis. The group spent $4.4 million on ads supporting Lee and $4.4 million attacking Johnson. It spent about $4.4 million on ads attacking Soto and $1.3 million on ads backing him.

About this data collection

This project was built on previously released reports from the Sunlight Foundation for both the Congressional SuperPACs in 2018 and the Senate SuperPACs in 2016. The 2018 data were aggregated from reports made available in April. The new reports are based on reports made available in March.

The reports are split into two batches. The first is the 2018 report; the second is the 2016 report. When available, the data are sorted by the year in which the individual SuperPAC was created, and are stored in real time to allow tracking.

An augmented public disclosure system made available through the Digital Public Disclosure Act (DPDA) also complements this project. DPDA is a federal statute requiring disclosures about political committees’ donors and expenditures.

How we did it

The data are pulled from the OpenSecrets reporting system and the website PubTrack, where OpenSecrets publishes federal campaign finance data daily. Tracking the information is straightforward. In an augmented public disclosure system, OpenSecrets and some states adjust the FEC submission format to incorporate the DPDA compliance procedures.

The DDi system requires three steps:

Transparency, reporting, and retrieval. This step takes place in a submission portal and is facilitated by OpenSecrets, so we tend to work through OpenSecrets systems.

1. Log in. OpenSecrets.org provides information about press releases, earnings reports, social media, fundraising reports, or any other individual reports submitted by organizations. We enter the organization’s name and contact information.

2. Request reports. We click on the “Request Reporting” button and choose which reports we want. We get a link to the listed reports, and enter each one and click “Submit.”

3. Return an email. OpenSecrets works to connect with organizations if we believe we have more information to share.


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