Happy birthday, super PAC!

Center for Public Integrity

If you Googled “super PAC” during early 2010, you would have most likely read about Super Pac-Man, the dot-gobbling protagonist of a vintage arcade game.

Today, the term that became shorthand for the comparatively clunky “independent expenditure-only committee” turns 4 years old, having become a main character both in real political battles and fictional political dramas like House of Cards. Even the Federal Election Commission has adopted the term and uses it widely.

Credit a Roll Call reporter for coining “super PAC” as it’s known today.

Then writing for National Journal, Eliza Newlin Carney first used the term in a column published on June 26, 2010, doing so to describe a new group called Workers’ Voices that intended to raise unlimited amounts of money to create political ads.

Related: Merriam-Webster makes 'super PAC' official

“I can’t say that I sat around for days or even hours to come up with this term,” Carney told the Center for Public Integrity, although she emphasized that she is particularly conscious of word choices in her writing. “I’m someone who often reaches for the thesaurus or the dictionary.”

”Super PAC” wasn’t an instant hit, however.

A search of news archive database Nexis indicates that the second time super PAC appeared in an article, Carney again wrote it, this time in August 2010.

Other journalists and politicos sporadically used the term during late 2010, then hundreds of times during 2011.

Related: Media mentions of 'super PAC'

But it wasn’t until December 2011 when the usage of super PAC skyrocketed — at the height of a multi-episode arc in political comedy show “The Colbert Report.”

There’s more to this story. Click here to read the rest at the Center for Public Integrity.

This story is part of Primary Source. Primary Source keeps you up-to-date on developments in the post-Citizens United world of money in politics. Click here to read more stories in this blog.

Related stories

Copyright 2014 The Center for Public Integrity. This story was published by The Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit, nonpartisan investigative news organization in Washington, D.C.

View Comments (7)