- Federal Election Commission deadlocks on using leftover cash
- Panel’s chairwoman opposed plan by former HHS chief, lawmaker
Former congressman and HHS Secretary Tom Price failed to win approval Thursday for his efforts to shift leftover campaign cash to a nonprofit intended to promote his policy ideas.
The Federal Election Commission deadlocked, 2-2, on the proposal with Democratic appointees opposing the plan submitted by the former Republican lawmaker from Georgia.
Price wanted to tap $1.7 million from his campaign account to fund a new policy group he would lead.
The commission’s Democratic chairwoman, Ellen Weintraub, said Price’s plan would expand the scope of spending exempt from personal-use restrictions. She was joined by Steven Walther, an independent who holds a Democratic seat on the commission.
Weintraub said she would be scrutinizing all such future requests to ensure they comply with strict legal requirements that campaign money must be used for campaign or official expenses. “I’m going to be looking at any such requests more strictly as we go forward,” she said.
Republican commissioners Matthew Petersen and Caroline Hunter, said the Price request was in line with previous rulings and should be approved. The plan would have needed the approval of all four commissioners to proceed.
Hunter said clamping down on use of leftover campaign funds could have a widespread effect on other nonprofit groups funded with leftover campaign money. “A lot of other organizations will have to be concerned” by the FEC vote, she said.
Dozens of congressional lawmakers have retired in recent years, many with campaign accounts—sometimes referred to as “zombie campaigns”—holding hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars.
Retiring lawmakers can give the money back to donors or to a political party committee without restrictions. The money also can be contributed to other candidates within contribution limits. The FEC has allowed transfer of funds to a charity not involved in politics, but other uses may be scrutinized for possible violations of the law.
Taking enforcement action against a zombie campaign, however, requires agreement of all four commissioners.
The FEC recently began contacting campaign committees that have been dormant for at least four years to ask them what they plan to do with their money. While some zombie campaigns told the commission they would shut down, others have resisted, maintaining that they are operating legally and would continue to do so.
The commission announced this month a $6,900 fine and $8,000 repayment order in a settlement with former Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) over use of his $1.5 million campaign account to pay travel costs, conference fees, and Capitol Hill Club dues.
To contact the reporter on this story: Kenneth P. Doyle in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org