Politicians are not required to shut down their campaign committees after their campaigns are over. When federal office candidates end up with surplus money, it cannot go toward personal expenses. Instead, the Federal Election Commission reports, candidates may donate that money to charities and political parties, and make contributions directly to other political candidates, at a maximum of $2,000 per candidate per election. Politicians, who often use excess funds to pay campaign debts, may also save extra campaign cash for future political campaigns. Retiring federal lawmakers were allowed to pocket extra campaign cash and spend it on a variety of personal expenses – such as vacations, houses and cars – until the passage of the Ethics Reform Act in 1989.
Leadership PACs Exception to Rule
The ban on personal use of campaign funds does not apply to leadership Political Action Committees. Once a politician, usually a member of Congress, leaves office he may donate extra campaign committee funds to a Leadership PAC, an outside organization that pools contributions and uses it toward supporting (or opposing) political candidates, or funding non-campaign expenses such as travel, polling and office expenses, reports the Center for Responsive Politics. Although the FEC argues that the ban on personal use should be expanded to leadership PACs, these groups are still far less regulated than campaign committee funds. Politicians, however, are banned from using leadership PAC money to fund their own re-elections.
Congress Has More Leftover Money Than Ever
An increasing number of congressmen are leaving political office with a surplus of $100,000 in their campaign war chest, according to a 2013 Center for Responsive Politics report. In the 1998 election cycle 18 former members of Congress retained that much campaign money. By 2012, that number almost tripled to 52 ex-lawmakers -- out of those, eight had more than $1 million remaining. A large portion of those funds may be funneled to leadership PACs, the number of which have almost quadrupled from 120 to 450 between 1998 and 2013, reports "The National Journal."
2012 Presidential Election
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s campaign committee ended the 2012 election cycle with $25.7 million in the bank. The money that was not spent to settle campaign debts was donated to the National Congressional Committee, the Republican National Committee and the Republican Party of Massachusetts. President Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign committee was relaunched as the nonprofit Organizing For Action, a political organization promoting Obama’s second-term agenda.
The rules surrounding excess campaign cash from local elections vary by state. However, like federal candidates, state politicians are typically barred from spending surplus campaign money on personal expenses. In 2007, retired New York lawmakers and sitting politicians in 2012 in Washington state have been accused of spending campaign funds on lavish personal purchases. In Virginia, state politicians are not prohibited from using committee funds for personal expenses.
- Factcheck.org: Leftover Campaign Funds
- Center for Responsive Politics: Politicians Have Numerous Options for Unused Campaign Cash After Leaving Elected Office
- Center for Responsive Politics: Leftover Loot: More Leave Congress With Lots of Campaign Cash
- National Journal: Why Nearly Everyone in Congress Has a Leadership PAC These Days
- Reuters: Romney campaign had $25.7 Million Left After U.S. Election
- Bloomberg: Romney Gives Excess Campaign Cash to House Republicans
- CNN: 'Obama for America' to Morph into 'Organizing for Action'
- New York Times: Retired Politicians Spend Unused Campaign Funds
- AP: Questionable Spending of Leftover Campaign Cash
- Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity: Leftover campaign money can fund almost anything in Virginia
- Alex Wong/Getty Images News/Getty Images