Leftover Campaign Funds 'Grease the Wheels' for Foreign Powers

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people going through a revolving door

Donors who gave to support a candidate’s run for office probably didn’t expect that their money would be used years later to advance Saudi Arabia’s interests and the politician’s post-congressional lobbying career.

A new report released today by CLC, in collaboration with the Daily Beast, reveals how multiple former Members of Congress who registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) have used their old campaign accounts to contribute tens of thousands of dollars to the same legislators they have lobbied on behalf of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and other foreign governments.

Read the Daily Beast story.

CLC’s report, developed using FARA records and campaign finance reports from the past five years, underscores the importance of the Federal Election Commission (FEC) issuing clear rules for so-called “zombie campaigns,” such as requiring that old campaign accounts be shut down.

Former Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA) left office in 2015 with $330,000 remaining in his campaign account, and after registering as a foreign agent of Qatar, used leftover campaign cash to advance Qatar’s interests. In 2017 and 2018, Moran used unspent campaign funds to give to at least a dozen current members’ campaigns within one year of him or his firm contacting those offices on behalf of Qatar.

Former Rep. Buck McKeon (R-CA) became an agent of Saudi Arabia after leaving office in 2015, and demonstrated a similar pattern of using his old campaign funds to peddle influence on behalf of his foreign government lobbying client. For example, shortly after a U.S. Senator took the helm of a committee considering a proposal to cut U.S. military support for Saudi Arabia, McKeon used his old campaign funds to write that senator’s campaign four $1,000 checks, while also lobbying the senator’s office on behalf of Saudi Arabia. McKeon had never contributed to the senator until he took control of a committee that affects the interests of his foreign lobbying client.

Solutions

In February 2018, CLC filed a rulemaking petition calling for the FEC to clarify how former lawmakers can use leftover campaign funds, and to place a time limit on how long campaign accounts can remain open.

Congress could go further, and, in fact, both Republican and Democratic officeholders have called for limits on former officials leveraging their public service for foreign or domestic lobbying clients. Meanwhile, the revolving door keeps spinning. 

Corey handles media relations for the CLC team and creates online content.
How Some Retired Politicians Use Leftover Campaign Funds to Advance Their Careers as Foreign Agents

Zombie campaigns strike again!

Authors of the Report
Brendan Fischer
Director, Federal Reform
Maggie Christ
Researcher/Investigator, Campaign Finance