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FEC stays on Cliff Stearns, other zombie campaigns despite D.C. dysfunction

Several others questioned about zombie campaigns.

The Federal Election Commission sent dozens of letters late last week to the campaigns of former members of Congress who are still spending from campaign accounts despite retiring from office years ago.

That includes Florida Republican Congressman-turned-lobbyist Cliff Stearns, who has insisted on keeping his account open, even after 2019 fines from the FEC for misspending those funds. Other prominent former officeholders to receive FEC requests include Minnesota Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann; Massachusetts Democratic Rep. Joe Kennedy II; Connecticut Democratic Rep. Chris Dodd; Florida Republican Reps. Jeff Miller and John Mica, and Georgia Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss.

“Your most recent report discloses a significant amount of residual cash on hand,” the FEC asked each campaign. “Please explain the committee’s intended use of the residual campaign funds … be aware that committee assets, including cash-on-hand, may not be converted to personal use.”

The campaigns for former House Speaker Tom Foley, a Washington Democrat, and Democratic Rep. Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey were also asked about their future campaign plans; Foley and Lautenberg both died in 2013, but their campaigns have remained active for the nearly seven years since.

The letters, all of which stem from reviews of campaign disclosures from the first half of 2019, are the second round of FEC warnings following the groundbreaking “Zombie Campaigns” investigations. The series prompted the FEC to initiate semiannual reviews of former candidates’ campaign accounts, which had never before been reviewed. It also led to fines for Stearns’ campaign, which is managed by his wife, a paid employee.

Subsequent coverage of zombie campaigns on FloridaPolitics.com led to additional FEC complaints and open investigations.

While the FEC continues to investigate possible campaign finance violations, it’s unlikely to be able to enforce the law; because President Donald Trump and the U.S. Senate have not filled three vacancies on the commission, the board has no quorum to hold any official meetings, actions, or penalties.

Written By

Noah Pransky is a multiple award-winning investigative reporter, most recently with the CBS affiliate in Tampa. He’s uncovered major stories such as uncovering backroom deals in the Tampa Bay Rays stadium and other political investigations. Pransky also ran a blog called Shadow of the Stadium, giving readers a deep dive into the details of potential financial deals and other happenings involving the Tampa Bay- area sports business.

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