Kathy Castor and Gus Bilirakis reintroduce proposal to crack down on ‘zombie campaigns’

Campaign-Finance
Current law doesn’t stop former lawmakers or losing candidates from keeping campaign accounts open.

U.S. Reps. Kathy Castor and Gus Bilirakis joined Maryland Rep. Jamie Raskin to reintroduce legislation that would require outgoing lawmakers to close their campaign accounts within two years of leaving office. 

The bipartisan proposal, known as the Honest Elections and Campaign, No Gain Act (HEC NO), requires former lawmakers and others no longer seeking office to close their associated campaign accounts within two years.

The legislation addresses “zombie campaigns,” in which former politicians and staffers hoard unspent donations for years and use them for personal finance, according to a report by the Tampa Bay Times and 10News WTSP.  The report detailed roughly 100 “zombie campaigns” still spending campaign cash long after the candidate exited the race.

“Members of Congress are elected to serve the public interest, not their personal interests, and House Democrats passed the For the People Act to clean up corruption in Washington and restore integrity to our government,” Castor, a Tampa Democrat, said in a statement. “Ex-lawmakers and candidates should not be able to personally benefit from leftover campaign funds, and if we pass my bipartisan bill, we can put Zombie Campaigns in the grave once and for all.”

Current law allows for donations to be spent on campaigning and the cost of being in office. It can also be refunded to donors or given away to other candidates, political committees or charities if the campaign is unsuccessful. However, it doesn’t stop former lawmakers or losing candidates from keeping campaigns running, even if they never re-enter politics, according to the report.

A version of HEC NO was included in the landmark bill, H.R. 1 – the For the People Act, which passed the House earlier this year.

“Elected officials have a responsibility to uphold the public trust. We’ve seen egregious examples of former members keeping their campaign accounts open in perpetuity and personally benefitting from the proceeds. While they may not have explicitly broken the law, they have certainly violated the spirit of the law, which is wrong,” Bilirakis, a Palm Harbor Republican, said in a statement. “We have to close the loophole and restore the public trust.”

In addition to requiring closures of campaign accounts after leaving office, the legislation also bans payments to family members from the account once the lawmaker exits. It would also prohibit candidates from transferring the money into their own political action committees, which is allowed under current regulations.

The proposal ensures all campaign funds must be disposed of before any individual becomes a registered lobbyist.

Proponents of HEC No include organizations like the Campaign Legal Center, Common Cause, End Citizens United, Issue One, Let America Vote Action Fund and Public Citizen.

“It’s wrong for former members of Congress to finance extravagant lifestyles with leftover campaign funds,” said Tiffany Muller, president of End Citizens United and Let America Vote Action Fund, in a statement. “It only serves to further erode the public’s faith in their elected officials.”

Kelly Hayes

Kelly Hayes studied journalism and political science at the University of Florida. Kelly was born and raised in Tampa Bay. A recent graduate, she enjoys government and legal reporting. She has experience covering the Florida Legislature as well as local government, and is a proud Alligator alum. You can reach Kelly at [email protected]



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