FEC will Crack Down on Zombie Campaigns after CLC Files Petition


WASHINGTON – Today, the Federal Election Commission (FEC) announced that the agency will begin reviewing campaign disclosure reports to determine whether former candidates and officeholders are illegally using leftover campaign money for personal purposes, after Campaign Legal Center (CLC) filed a petition for rulemaking on Feb. 5, 2018. A bombshell investigation by the Tampa Bay Times and WTSP revealed how common it is for former officeholders to continue using campaign funds long after candidates left office, stopped campaigning, or died, on expenses like country club dues, expensive flights and hotels, and cell phone bills.

“We applaud the FEC for taking action to crack down on the ‘zombie campaign’ phenomenon,” said Adav Noti, senior director, trial litigation at CLC and former associate general counsel for policy at the FEC. “It is not in the public interest for campaign accounts to turn into personal slush funds for former candidates. 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.”

Today’s announcement from the FEC commits the FEC to ensuring that campaign funds are only used to support one’s candidacy and duties as an officeholder. That means that once a person is no longer a candidate or officeholder, the allowable uses of campaign funds become more limited.

CLC has brought this issue to the attention of the FEC with the rulemaking petition as well as two legal complaints in the past year pointing to egregious examples of former lawmakers or their campaign staff converting funds to personal use.

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • February 2018: CLC files a rulemaking petition asking the FEC to revise and amend regulations pertaining to the personal use of campaign funds as they apply to former candidates and officeholders.
  • March 2018: the FEC published a notice of availability in the Federal Register regarding CLC’s rulemaking petition.