WASHINGTON (CN) – The federal agency tasked with monitoring campaign funds announced Thursday that it is conducting a review of what happens to contribution after an official or candidate ends their run.
The Federal Elections Commission said it will begin looking into “dormant” campaign funds starting in July to see if any funds being spent post-campaign violate federal law.
The additional review will apply to committees of former candidates who did not campaign or hold office during the previous two years for U.S. House of Representatives candidates or four years for U.S. Senate and presidential candidates.
Adav Noti, of the Washington-based Campaign Legal Center, a watchdog group that focuses on election and campaign issues, said the review is long overdue.
He and his organization have sent numerous letters to the agency hoping to draw its attention to what he called “zombie campaign donations.”
“It is not in the public interest for campaign accounts to turn into personal slush funds for former candidates,” Noti wrote in a statement released after the FEC review was announced. “While enforcing the existing rules on the use of campaign funds is a big step in the right direction, the FEC will also need to clarify and strengthen those rules to properly address this widespread problem.”
The agency’s statement did include a list of acceptable uses for campaign funds under federal law, known as the Federal Election Campaign Act. Those include covering the costs of winding down a campaign, charitable donations and transferring those assets “to the candidate or a third party at fair market value.”
But the statement also was clear on what is unacceptable: transferring those funds for personal use.
According to the Campaign Legal Center, abuses are widespread. In its correspondence with the FEC, it has highlighted several alleged instances of misuse of funds.
These include a former congressman who reportedly used leftover campaign funds to pay his cellphone bill and membership at a private club, and that case of a one-time campaign treasurer who allegedly paid himself $100,000 in consulting fees from contributions after his candidate died.
In March, two of members of Congress from Florida, Gus Bilirakis, a Republican, and Kathy Caster, a Democrat, sponsored the Honest Elections and Campaign, No Gain Act, which is intended to force campaigns to disburse funds within two years of an elections end date.
“No more zombie campaigns or corruption,” Castor wrote on Facebook following the legislation’s submission. “It is wrong for former members or candidates to keep their campaign accounts open for decades and convert those funds for personal use.”