Former Officeholders Convert Campaign Cash to Slush Funds Long After Campaigns End
Current law allows former candidates to keep campaign accounts open forever, inviting abuse of funds through personal use
WASHINGTON – A recent investigation by the Tampa Bay Times and WTSP-TV exposed the fact that 102 former campaigns were still spending money years after their candidates left office, stopped campaigning, or died. Examples ranged from the more extreme: a former politician that retired from Congress in 1993 and still uses his campaign account to pay for country club dues, to commonplace practices that include former staffers using campaign donations to advance private-sector careers or reward family members.
This week, Campaign Legal Center (CLC) filed a petition asking the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to revise and amend regulations pertaining to the personal use of campaign funds as they apply to former candidates and officeholders. CLC is calling for a time limit on how long campaign accounts can remain open after the conclusion of a campaign unless the candidate genuinely plans to run for office again. U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor also recently announced plans to draft a legislative solution that would reign in this practice.
“The FEC must act to clarify rules that have paved the way for former Congresspeople and staffers to use leftover cash as personal slush funds,” said Adav Noti, senior director, trial litigation at CLC, who served as associate general counsel for policy at the FEC. “By updating its regulations, the FEC can prevent politicians from misusing campaign donations years after leaving office. This permissive attitude towards ‘winding down’ campaigns has invited abuse, and it must end.”
“Given how widespread the problem is, the FEC should take action to clarify rules around the personal use of campaign funds,” said Brendan Fischer, director, federal and FEC reform program at CLC. “This is a problem for politicians on both sides of the aisle, and violators of the current rules should be punished.”
Recent CLC complaints before the FEC illustrate some of the most egregious examples of former lawmakers or their campaign staff converting funds to personal use.
- January 2018: CLC filed a complaint concerning the treasurer of the late-Congressman Mark Takai’s campaign committee, who paid himself more than $100,000 after Takai’s passing to “consult” the campaign.
- October 2017: Retired Congressman Cliff Stearns still has an active campaign account despite leaving office in 2013. CLC filed a complaint because Stearns was using apparently illegal campaign expenditures to pay for 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.
The FEC has yet to act on these complaints.