Petition to Federal Election Commission:
According to a recent investigative report by the Tampa Bay Times, at least 100 former candidates are still using their campaign accounts for personal expenses like cell phones, computers, and lavish travel and dinners, long after their political careers have ended. The current FEC rules are too vague and poorly enforced to prevent this abuse. Please strengthen the rules regarding the winding down of campaign expenses, and require stricter timelines for the disposition of campaign funds.
Over the past two years, political operative Dylan Beesley paid his firm more than $100,000 from the campaign account of Rep. Mark Takai (D-Hawai'i) for "consulting services." Seems like an entirely appropriate expense for a public officeholder who must run for re-election every two years, right? There's just one problem. Rep. Takai was dead that entire time.1
While this may be the most offensive and egregious use of campaign funds long after the campaign is over, it is far from the only one. FEC filings show disbursements from campaign accounts years after candidates last held or ran for office, for everything from limo rides to sports tickets to lavish hotels and dinners.2
Tell the FEC: Kill zombie campaigns. Stop former candidates from using campaign accounts as their personal slush funds.
Federal Election Commission rules forbid the use of campaign funds for personal expenses, but the rules are vague and poorly enforced. In 2013, the FEC issued an advisory opinion that former candidates should wind down all campaign-related expenses within six months. But candidates routinely flout this rule.
An investigation by the Tampa Bay Times found roughly 100 zombie campaigns that were still spending cash long after candidacies have ended.3
Nearly 40 campaigns kept staff on the payroll, including 12 that made payments to family members. About half the former candidates became lobbyists, and many used the extra cash to curry favor with future clients and other candidates.
Perhaps the oldest zombie campaign of all belongs to former Rep. Robin Tallon, Jr. He left office in 1993 with $400,000 in his campaign account. Through investing, he turned that $400,000 into $1 million. Beginning in 2005, Tallon has used the account for everything from new computers, an iPad, $20,000 to his son who was listed as campaign treasurer, and dues to a country club near his home in South Carolina.
The FEC requires candidates who are no longer running for office to either give the money to charity, other candidates, or refund it to donors.
But given the prevalence of zombie campaigns, it's clear the FEC needs to strengthen its rules around campaign spending, and enact strict timelines as to when former candidates must close their accounts.
Candidates should not be allowed to use campaign contributions as their own personal slush funds. Tell the FEC: Put an end to zombie campaigns.
1. Tampa Bay Times, “Zombie Campaigns: The campaign is over. The candidate might be dead. But the spending never stops,” January 31, 2018.