By Aaron Blake - 10/20/09 10:00 AM EDT
Of 10 members of Congress seeking state or local office, seven have had to get creative when finding ways to put their House campaign accounts to good use.
Some sent the funds to state and local party committees or to politicians who could help them in their new campaigns; some have conducted polling; and some have refunded contributions to donors in hopes that the money would be sent right back to their new campaign.
Federal law doesn’t restrict the use of federal campaign money for nonfederal races, and state law varies on the subject, so some candidates can use their money directly from one campaign to another and others cannot.
“Apart from the federal law banning personal use of campaign funds, the funds possessed by a federal campaign committee can be used for any lawful purpose,” said Federal Elections Commission expert Paul Ryan, an attorney at the Campaign Legal Center. “Some jurisdictions have campaign finance laws more strict than federal law, while others are less strict.”
Reps. Gresham Barrett (R-S.C.), Artur Davis (D-Ala.) and Danny Davis (D-Ill.) have all been able to transfer money directly from the federal to state accounts. Artur Davis transferred $1 million and Barrett transferred $328,000 for their gubernatorial runs, while Danny Davis transferred $130,000 in the third quarter as he weighs a run at president of the Cook County Board of Commissioners.
Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii) spent more than $80,000 from his federal account on legal fees trying to get the state elections commission to let him use federal funds in his campaign for governor, but he ultimately failed.
Now Abercrombie appears to be trying to transfer the money indirectly. In the third quarter, he refunded $175,000 to leading donors from his past campaigns. Generally, these donors are then asked to contribute to the new campaign.
Abercrombie still has $679,000 cash on hand and was refunding contributions up until the end of the quarter Sept. 30, so many more refunds could be in the works. If even half those donors send the money back, Abercrombie will have a solid haul.
Likewise, Rep. Jim Gerlach (R-Pa.), who is also running for governor, refunded more than $35,000 to donors the same week he announced his candidacy in July. He has less than $35,000 left in his House campaign account.
Other candidates are sending the money to their party.
Rep. Adam Putnam (R-Fla.), who faces a GOP primary for state agriculture commissioner, has given $150,000 to the Florida Republican Party this year, including $50,000 in August. He has also contributed $500 to state party Chairman Jim Greer’s reelection.
Putnam has given more to his state party this year than in all four of his previous terms in Congress combined. Previously a big donor to the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) as a member of leadership, he has now focused his giving on his home state.
In Tennessee, gubernatorial candidate Rep. Zach Wamp (R-Tenn.) has sent $22,000 to the state Republican Caucus. He also sent smaller donations to four county Republican parties and Reps. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) and Phil Roe (R-Tenn.), among several other House colleagues.
Rep. Mary Fallin (R-Okla.), who is also running for governor, has given $22,500 to the NRCC and made small contributions to Rep. John Sullivan (R-Okla.) and the state GOP.
Fallin, who announced she would run in February, also listed polling expenses on her federal campaign report in January. Spokesman Alex Weintz said the expenditure was mislabeled and was not actually a poll, even though it was paid to her regular pollster.
He said the filings would be amended.
“It was, in fact, a general consulting fee in January,” Weintz said. “The Tarrance Group does our polling, and they always do general consulting as well. That was the bill that was paid for.”
Artur Davis and Danny Davis have also listed polling expenses while weighing nonfederal races, but since they are allowed to use their federal funds in their nonfederal campaigns, the expenditures don’t raise red flags.
Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.) began the cycle with just more than $100,000 in his campaign account, and the only contribution he has made has been to
Rep. Roy Blunt’s (R-Mo.) Senate campaign. Hoekstra is running for governor.
Deal also donated more than $90,000 to charity, an amount linked on his fundraising report to his former chief of staff, who last year acknowledged accepting more wages than he was allowed from the congressman’s campaign.
The chief of staff, Chris Riley, is now Deal’s campaign manager, and he returned the $90,000 to Deal’s campaign last year after the overpayments were brought to his attention. He could not be reached for comment.