Running for Congress has never been cheap and the 2014 midterm elections were no exception. This year candidates raised more money than ever on their campaigns, which also means there’s a pretty sizeable chunk of change left over when the dust settles.
U.S. House and Senate candidates raised a combined $1.5 billion during their campaigns this year, According to the Center for Responsive Politics. However, they only spent $1.3 billion. That leaves roughly $199 million left over.
Generally, candidates use the unspent cash to pay off debts that were run up during the campaign --and to prepare for their next run. But candidates with no plans to run again have a few other options. So where does it go?
Once upon a time, retiring candidates could use the funds for anything from vacations to cars. Some even used the cash as a retirement cushion. But the Ethics Reform Act of 1989 changed all that, putting strict restrictions on where and how candidates can spend the spare cash.
All in all, 24 members of the House and seven Senators retired this term, which has left a lot of money up for grabs. And though they can’t spend the money on a much-needed vacation, they do have a few options, according to the strict guidelines set by the Federal Election Commission.
Candidates can refund the money to donors or pass it on to charities, political parties or to other candidates. But this last option has limits.
Only $2,000 per election can be donated per candidate, but if their committee is converted into a political action committee (PAC) the rate is $5,000.
“Plenty of elected officials end their careers with thousands or even millions in their campaign accounts,” The New York Times’ Derek Willis wrote on Wednesday, pointing out certain politicians who are still holding on to cash years later, as there doesn't seem to be any time limit.
Martin Meehan, former Democratic congressman from Massachusetts still has $4.4 million in his account, even though he left the house in 2007. Former Democratic Representative John LaFalce, of New York, retired 10 years ago but is still making contributions to charities from his account.
Retiring Iowa Senator Tom Harkin has about $2.4 million left in his account, some of which may go to his replacement, but with more going to Iowa’s Drake University to establish a policy institutes in his name, according to Politico.
Democrat Sen. Tim Johnson of South Dakota announced his retirement earlier this year. Since then he’s committed just $20,000 to other candidates, $5,000 to the Democratic nominee for governor and tens of thousands to various charities, but till had about $848,000 in his account as of the end of September, according to the National Journal.
And sometimes politicians can get even more creative.
In February, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie got permission to use leftover campaign funds to pay for the legal bills incurred for the investigation into his decision to close the George Washington Bridge.