Complaint: Former Rep Uses Campaign Account for Personal Expenses Five Years after Leaving Congress
WASHINGTON – Today, Campaign Legal Center (CLC) filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) alleging former Congressman Cliff Stearns (FL-06) has illegally converted leftover campaign funds to personal use, in violation of the prohibition against current and former candidates misusing campaign funds. Potentially illegal expenditures include his monthly cellphone bill, payments to his wife, membership dues at private Washington D.C. clubs, and expenses apparently related to his private sector lobbying career. Stearns represented Florida’s 6th congressional district until 2013, and joined the lobbying firm APCO Worldwide immediately after leaving office.
After a Member of Congress leaves office, they may legally donate leftover campaign funds to charity, transfer funds to their party, make contributions to other candidates, or pay for the costs of winding-down their campaign or closing their office.
“Former Members of Congress spending leftover campaign money as golden parachutes to subsidize their personal lifestyles is a serious misuse of contributions,” said Adav Noti, senior director, trial litigation and strategy at CLC, who previously served as the FEC’s Associate General Counsel for Policy. “The law bans elected officials from pocketing the campaign contributions they receive, and the FEC should strictly enforce that ban.”
“Campaign funds are not supposed to be used to enhance the lobbying career of a long-retired member,” said Brendan Fischer, director, federal and FEC reform at CLC. “By law, campaign contributions are to be used for a candidate’s run for office or one’s duties as an officeholder, not as a personal slush fund.”
Since leaving office in 2013, Stearns has used campaign funds to pay over $5,000 in cell phone bills, to pay his wife $5,000 this year alone, and to pay for thousands of dollars in gifts, framing services, conference fees, and other expenses that have no apparent connection to his former duties as an officeholder. Stearns has also paid for thousands of dollars in membership dues and meals at a private Republican club in Washington D.C., which he admitted are connected to his private sector lobbying duties.
Federal law states that campaign contributions are deemed “converted to personal use” if such funds are “used to fulfill any commitment, obligation or expense of a person that would exist irrespective of the candidate’s election campaign or individual’s duties as a holder of Federal office.”