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(Political Action Committee) A political committee is neither a party committee nor an authorized committee of a candidate. It primarily raises and spends money to elect or defeat candidates. Some PACs also fund political advertisements designed to aid their preferred candidates, or act as act as conduits to bundle donations to targeted candidates, such as ActBlue or Club for Growth. PACs directly or indirectly established, administered or financially supported by a corporation or labor organization are called separate segregated funds (SSFs). PACs without such a corporate or labor sponsor are called nonconnected PACs. A PAC must register with the Federal Election Commission within 10 days of its formation, providing the name and address of the PAC, its treasurer and any affiliated organizations. Individuals contributing to a PAC may also contribute directly to candidates and political parties, even those also supported by the PAC. See also Separate Segregated Funds, Nonconnected PACs, and Leadership PACs.

Pack Journalism

The idea that journalists frequently copy and imitate each other rather than doing independent reporting.

Paradox of Participation

When many people vote because they wish to make a difference, but the actual chances of making a difference are infinitesimally small.


A strong, often emotional supporter of a person or cause; can apply to a group as well as individuals.

Party Activist

A person who is deeply involved with a party; usually more ideologically extreme than an average party voter.

Party Committee

A political committee that represents a political party and is part of the official party structure at the national, state or local level.

Party Platform

The collection of issue positions endorsed by a political party.

Party-column Ballot

A ballot that groups candidates by party; also called the Indiana ballot.


Government jobs and contracts given out to political allies in exchange for support.

Peer-to-Peer Fundraising

The act of soliciting nonprofit donations directly from one’s online contacts using web-based tools like CrimsonRPM, email or social networks. Generally, social media tools and peer-to-peer fundraising software facilitate this fundraising method. Often the peer-to-peer fundraising software is provided by the nonprofit to their supporters to enable them to solicit donations online.

Personal Use

Any use of funds in a campaign account of a candidate, or former candidate, to pay for a commitment, obligation or expense of any person that would exist irrespective of the candidate’s campaign or duties as a federal officeholder.


A phase in a campaign where organizers collect signatures to put a candidate’s name on the ballot. How many signatures are needed depends on the jurisdiction and the office sought; some states allow candidates to pay a fee instead of submitting signatures. In areas with popular initiatives, signatures are needed to put a measure on a ballot.


Short for a “photo opportunity,” an event specifically staged for television news cameras or photographers to increase a politician’s exposure.


The view that society contains numerous centers of power and many people participate in making decisions for society.


More votes than any other candidate but not a majority.

Poison the Well

A rhetorical device often used by politicians where adverse information is pre-emptively presented to an audience, with the intention of discrediting or ridiculing what another politician intends to say. The origin of the term lies in well poisoning, an old wartime practice of pouring poison into sources of fresh water before an invading army, to diminish the attacking army’s strength.

Political Appointees

Federal bureaucrats appointed by the president, often to reward loyalty.

Political Committee

An entity that meets one of the following conditions:

  • An authorized committee of a candidate. (See Candidate).
  • Any club, association or other group of persons that receives contributions or makes expenditures, either of which aggregate over $1,000 during a calendar year.
  • A local unit of a political party (except a state party committee) that: (1) receives contributions aggregating over $5,000 during a calendar year; (2) makes contributions or expenditures either of which aggregate over $1,000 during a calendar year or (3) makes payments aggregating over $5,000 during a calendar year for certain activities that are exempt from the definitions of contribution and expenditure.
  • Any separate segregated fund upon its establishment.

Political Party

An association, committee or organization that nominates or selects a candidate for election to federal office whose name appears on the election ballot as the candidate of the organization.

Political Suicide

An unpopular action that is likely to cause a politician’s subsequent defeat at the polls or be cause for him or her to resign from public office.

Pork Barrel Projects

Wasteful government expenditures that lawmakers secure for their local districts in an attempt to gain favor with voters or campaign contributors. The term originated after the Civil War due to the practice of plantations distributing rations of salt pork to slaves from large, wooden barrels as a reward for special occasions.


An administrative division of voters by neighborhood; smallest political unit in U.S. politics. Cities and counties are divided into precinct polling districts that have varying numbers of registered voters based on State law.

Presidential Commission

A body that advises the president on some problem, making recommendations; some are temporary, whereas others are permanent.

Presidential Primary

A state-level election held to nominate a party’s candidate for office. Regulations governing them and the dates on which they are held vary from state to state. In some states, voters are restricted to choosing candidates only from the party for which they have registered support, however 29 states permit open primaries in which a voter may opt to back a candidate regardless of their nominal affiliation. Public funds are available to a presidential candidate running in a primary election, if the candidate agrees to spending limits.

Presidential Public Funds

Public funding of presidential elections means that qualified presidential candidates may choose to receive federal government funds to pay for certain expenses of their political campaigns in both the primary and general elections. Prior to the 2016 presidential election, national political parties could also receive federal money for their national nominating conventions. See also Public Funding.

Primary Election

An election in which voters nominate a candidate to run for office in a general election. Also known as “primary.”

Principal Campaign Committee

An authorized committee designated by a candidate as the principal committee to raise contributions and make expenditures for his or her campaign for a federal office.

Prior Approval

A written request to a member corporation of a trade association to a member corporation for permission to solicit the member’s restricted class. This request for approval must inform the member corporation that corporate approval is necessary before the trade association or its SSF may conduct a solicitation and the corporation may not approve solicitations by another trade association for the same calendar year.

Prohibited Sources

Those entities that are banned from making contributions or, in some cases, expenditures, in connection with, or for the purpose of influencing, a federal election.

Proportional Representation

An electoral system in which each party gets a number of seats in the legislature proportionate to its percentage of the vote.


The scientific study and statistical analysis of elections and voting. The term was coined in 1952 by Oxford Professor R. B. McCallum and is derived from the Greek word psephos, which means pebble, and references the pebbles used by the Ancient Greeks to cast their votes.

Public Communication

A communication by means of any broadcast, cable or satellite communication, newspaper, magazine, outdoor advertising facility, mass mailing or telephone bank to the general public, or any other form of general public political advertising. The term general public political advertising does not include communications made over the internet, except for communications placed for a fee on another person’s website.

Public Funding

Money supplied to campaigns from government coffers and administered by the Federal Election Commission. This includes primary election matching funds, which match the money candidates have raised privately, and a grant for the general election, and grants to fund the major parties’ conventions. The two major parties, the Democrats and Republicans, are automatically entitled to a public grant to pay for the cost of their national conventions. Minor parties are also entitled to a smaller subsidy in proportion to the vote they received. New parties are not eligible.

Presidential candidates who accept public funding must agree to spending limits. In the general election, candidates who accept public funds may not raise private money in addition to the grant, nor can they spend more than the grant (though some legal and accounting expenses and some of candidates’ personal cash is exempt). To qualify for primary election matching funds, candidates need to raise at least $100,000 in individual donations, including at least $5,000 from 20 different states. Candidates who fail to receive at least 10% of the popular vote in two successive primary elections lose their eligibility for continued payments, unless and until they receive at least 20% of the vote in a later primary.

Publicly-Financed Elections

An electoral system in which candidates’ campaigns are funded with resources that come from public funding rather than private donations. Also, a specific legislative proposal under which eligible candidates who pledge not to accept or spend any private money whatsoever during the primary and general election periods would receive equal amounts of full public financing with which to conduct their campaigns.

Purple state

Another term for a swing state. A state which could vote Democratic (blue) or Republican (red). See Swing State.

Push Card

A small, easy access, wallet-sized campaign sign typically given to a potential voter during door-to-door canvassing or at an event. Also known as Palm Cards.

Push Poll

A controversial practice where a seemingly unbiased survey is conducted by supporters of a particular candidate with the intention of disseminating negative or misleading information about an opponent. Its intent is primarily to distribute propaganda rather than to understand the views and opinions of the public.