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Which states let campaigns keep donations and which make them spend them dollars?
September 17, 2012 11:21 AM   Subscribe

In certain US states political candidates at the local and state level have to spend all of the funding they get for a certain campaign before the November election. In others, they get to keep that pool of cash for future elections. This is what I've heard anyway. But I can't find any kind of definitive list of which state has which law. Does such a list exist in an easily accessible place? How do I find out more about individual state's campaign finance laws without wading through endless Secretary of State documents? And as an aside--does this come up often? Do campaigns ever really bother to hold onto money if they are ahead or do they usually spend the dollars on the current campaign anyway?
posted by Potomac Avenue to Law & Government (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
This is going to be really hard to find unless some firm or press group has already paid for the research.

Yes, campaigns really do rollover surplus campaign contributions toward future races. It was a big issue in the Seattle city council this spring for example because incumbents had a built-in fundraising advantage by rolling over funds to future races. I don't know the ultimate outcome but there was a proposal to limit the amount of these rollover funds.

Another example: In New York City, the city has a generous contribution matching program that candidates are supposed to repay at the end of their races (although that doesn't always happen) so there should never be rollover surpluses in publicly funded races. That said, in races that appear to be decided candidates have some leeway in determine fundraising activity. They could, for example, press less on their boosters, make fewer donation calls, and do fewer fundraising events. A smart candidate might do that if they think they are assured a victory (or a loss!) because they can allow some time to pass before passing the hat again to their core financial base for the next election.

At the federal level it also happens, basically when members of congress decide not to run for re-election they generally have some surplus funds. In that case they can donate a certain amount (a few thousand dollars at a time) to other campaigns or PACs. It's not so much that they decide they can coast to victory, really it's because they are constantly fundraising.
posted by 2bucksplus at 12:18 PM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Well that is helpful though disappointing. In an individual state is there a resource besides slogging through their Guide for Candidates? Can I just email their Sec. of States office? Thanks!
posted by Potomac Avenue at 12:43 PM on September 17, 2012


Some states have a Campaign Finance Board or something similar. That would be your best bet. They might also have a voter hotline you could call.
posted by 2bucksplus at 1:05 PM on September 17, 2012


My understanding is that all candidates want to have as much of a war chest as possible.

As soon as you're elected, you're running for office again. Keeping a healthy war chest shows that you're committed to staying in the game. You've got all the lower level politicians who need to find an easy target to get a promotion, and you constantly need to prove that you are not that target.

And if you're planning to retire, you still have a strong incentive to hold onto a war chest. Once you run out of money, you basically guarantee that you're a lame duck. Even if you announce your retirement, with a war chest, you can use those funds to continue to push an agenda.

I know this doesn't directly answer your question. But it does challenge your initial assumption that "holding on to that money" is in any way a bother.
posted by politikitty at 1:20 PM on September 17, 2012


The National Conference of State Legislators website might be what you're looking for. I couldn't find a specific report on left-over cash, but it may be in there. Here's a page that links to the agencies you'd want to contact doing this one at a time.
Also, googling "disposition of surplus funds by candidate" and the state will probably get you what you want either in statute/code/from the state agency in charge.
posted by atomicstone at 1:29 PM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


And as an aside--does this come up often? Do campaigns ever really bother to hold onto money if they are ahead or do they usually spend the dollars on the current campaign anyway?

I've read that in federal campaigns, the campaign keeps running, even after a loss, to pay debts and close lines of credit. They don't spend everything in November because they will probably get bills afterwards that they need to pay.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 1:53 PM on September 17, 2012


So googling "disposition of surplus funds by candidate" led me to this page on the FCC website.

http://www.fec.gov/pubrec/cfl/cfl98/chart3a.html

Seems like the "POST-ELECTION" is what I'm looking for right? For instance, in CT:

"Surplus may be donated to another committee (except one established to further the candidate’s future campaigns), distributed pro rata to contributors, or used for transition expenses. Ballot question committees may also distribute surplus to government agencies or tax-exempt organizations"

In other words it may not be used for further campaigning in future years?

I think that's right. Either way, thanks Metafilter! Totally helpful.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 2:57 PM on September 17, 2012


"Surplus may be donated to another committee (except one established to further the candidate’s future campaigns), distributed pro rata to contributors, or used for transition expenses. Ballot question committees may also distribute surplus to government agencies or tax-exempt organizations"

In other words it may not be used for further campaigning in future years?


Not at all. May does not imply shall. If the same committee stays open, there doesn't need to be any disbursements. At least according to how that sentence is worded.
posted by gjc at 6:19 PM on September 17, 2012


Missouri's box is blank, so I will tell you that you get to keep the funds you didn't spend post election. The current Governor used some of his left over funds to pay for the political side of his inauguration. If you really have an interest in MO, memail me. I am pretty familiar with campaign finance law in various states, so if there's more info you need feel free to ask. I might know, or know how to get you a quick or easy answer.
posted by fyrebelley at 9:42 PM on September 17, 2012


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