Democratic presidential hopefuls have started to drop out of the battle for their party’s 2020 nomination, with long-shot candidate Eric Swalwell on Monday becoming the first to bow out.
Every exit will trigger a big financial question: What to do with the money remaining from the failed campaign?
Politicians with leftover campaign funds are barred from using the money for personal expenses, but beyond that they have a lot of options.
They can refund money to donors or make contributions to political allies, including other candidates, party groups and political action committees, as MarketWatch noted after the 2018 midterm elections. They also can spend the residual cash on winding down their campaign operations or donate it to charity.
In addition, it’s possible to spend leftover money on a different run for federal office, according to the Federal Election Commission. Former Sen. Evan Bayh did exactly that, for example. The Indiana Democrat’s unsuccessful 2016 Senate campaign made use of a $10 million war chest that he had amassed in the prior decade, before his decision not to seek re-election to his then–Senate seat in 2010.
Swalwell, a California Democratic congressman, could transfer his presidential campaign’s leftover money to his House re-election effort next year. The “Swalwell for America” team didn’t respond to a request for comment about plans for the funds.
Swalwell’s White House run — which he launched in early April — drew about $850,000 in donations in the second quarter, he said Monday at a press conference. That’s far below the $24.8 million brought in during the period by Pete Buttigieg, the South Bend, Ind., mayor who is leading the 2020 Democratic field when it comes to second-quarter fundraising.
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While former office seekers are barred from using their leftover campaign money for personal expenses, they don’t necessarily face consequences if they do cross that line. A Tampa Bay Times investigation last year found ex-lawmakers have used remaining funds to buy football season tickets or to pay family members for years, all without being formally investigated by the FEC.
There have been efforts to get rid of the leftovers more quickly, so to speak. Democratic Rep. Mark Takano of California has backed a Let It Go Act. His bill would require office holders and candidates to disburse their campaign funds within six years after their runs for office or the end of their terms in office.
This report was first published on July 10, 2019.