The Washington Examiner recently wrote about the art of naming a PAC, pointing out that the name must “balance patriotic with practical considerations.” The Examiner talked about making sure the name is not too long if the PAC will have to include “paid for by” statements on its ads. But there are some other legal considerations as well. Let’s look at some of the FEC’s naming rules.
If the PAC is a connected PAC, meaning it is supported by a company, union, nonprofit, or trade or professional association, then it must include the full name of the connected organization. We have seen registrations rejected by the FEC for failing to include “Inc.” or “Company” if that full legal name of the entity includes those signifiers. Thus, Widget Manufacturing Company of Our Town, Inc. must include all of those words in the name of the PAC. That name must appear in all legal disclaimers.
Organizations may identify a “pacronym” in the registration – that is, a shortened name or abbreviation. The FEC says, however, that the “shortened name must include a clearly recognizable acronym or form of the connected organization’s name.” The FEC has rejected names that are not well known abbreviations or acronyms for the organization, or that can be confused between multiple organizations. The pacronym must be listed on the registration statement, along with the full legal name. The advantage of the pacronym is that the shortened name may be used on websites and mailings (although the disclaimers must include the full name).
Interestingly, the words “Political Action Committee” or “PAC” do not have to appear in the PAC’s name. Some companies use phrases like “Good Government Fund,” or “Employee Fund” as part of the PAC name.
PACs that are not sponsored by a particular corporation, union, nonprofit, or trade association (whether traditional PACs or super PACs) may use almost any name, as long as it has not already been registered with the FEC. This is a fairly low bar, though trademark considerations may come into play if the organization wants to protect its name and logo. Even if a PAC name has not been registered with the FEC, there may be other organizations using the name that could bring a claim of trademark infringement. We generally suggest a trademark search for new PAC names (particularly if the organization will be engaged in advertising and other public outreach) and, depending on the size and scope of the PAC, registering the name of the PAC with the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
PAC names generally may not include the name of a candidate. There are two exceptions to this rule. First, candidate names are permissible if the PAC is a “draft” committee, formed to encourage someone to run for office. The committee must clearly state that it is a draft committee. Second, the PAC may use the name of a candidate in the name of a special project if it is opposing the candidate. For example, the Defeat Smith Project of the We Love America PAC would be acceptable, but the We Love America PAC Supports Smith Project would not be allowed.
The FEC has interpreted this rule to apply even to leadership PACs created by candidates. Typically, candidates take their first or last names and create an acronym from the name for their leadership PACs. The FEC, however, has stopped approving such pacronyms. For example, if I were creating a leadership PAC, I could register “Rebuilding Our Neighborhood PAC,” but not “Rebuilding Our Neighborhood PAC (RON PAC).” The FEC has said that it is not forcing existing leadership PACs to stop using this type of pacronym until they file an amended Form 1 (for example, because they change banks, treasurers, or addresses).
The candidate name rule also applies to independent expenditure committees (super PACs). Thus, a super PAC that supports a candidate may not include the candidate’s name, but a super PAC that opposes the candidate could.
In contrast to the FEC’s no candidate names rule, some states require PACs that support specific candidates to include candidate names. For example, in California, PACs or super PACs must include not only the name of the candidate, but also the office sought and the year of the election if they support a small number of candidates.
In sum, there are a lot of legal considerations that go into a PAC’s name, which have to be balanced against the political and practical considerations. Although “Americans for Malaise and High Unemployment” is available from the FEC and is legally permissible, we don’t expect to see a Super PAC scoop it up any time soon.