Congress

‘Zombie’ spending marches on as HR 1 faces Senate death, complaint says

Measure would address alleged misuse of campaign accounts after lawmakers leave office

Allegations of using campaign money for personal expenses after leaving office is the subject of a Federal Elections complaint against former Republican Rep. Ander Crenshaw of Florida. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

As the Senate prepares to face off in the coming weeks over House Democrats’ sweeping political ethics overhaul bill, a provision aimed to curtail so-called “Zombie” campaign spending is getting renewed attention. 

That’s the use of campaign money to pay for personal expenses after a lawmaker has left office. And it’s the subject of two Federal Elections Commission complaints filed this week involving former Republican lawmakers, Florida’s Ander Crenshaw and Georgia’s John Linder

The complaints, filed by The Campaign Legal Center and first reported in The Tampa Bay Times, allege that accounts tied to Crenshaw and Linder were improperly used to pay for Apple products, expensive meals and travel.

“It appears to be another example of a former member of Congress thinking they can use leftover campaign funds as personal slush funds,” Brendan Fischer, director of federal reform for the watchdog group, told The Tampa Bay Times, referring to the Crenshaw complaint. 

Linder told Roll Call that most of the expenses cited in the complaint, including a 4-day trip to Alaska, were tied to his work promoting the Fair Tax Act, an alternative federal tax system he proposed while in Congress.

“That was a bill that I authored and had much interest in, and I still do,” he said. 

He also paid his daughter a $1,400 monthly bookkeeping fee, an amount he said was below market rate, and paid for internet bills related to that work. 

Linder also pointed to connections between the Campaign Legal Center and billionaire liberal political activist George Soros, implying a political motivation to the complaint. 

“Do you know George Soros is behind that that organization?” he said, adding that in “the pathology that is today’s politics there are very few coincidences.”

The  Open Society Institute, founded by Soros, is one of dozens of foundations and institutional donors listed on the Campaign Legal Center website. 

Linder was nominated to be an ambassador to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations by President Donald Trump this week, subject to confirmation the Senate. 

Creshaw did not return messages requesting comment. 

The provision addressing “zombie” campaign spending was included in the House version of the ethics overhaul bill, HR 1, after a 2018 Tampa Bay Times/10News WTSP investigation found more than 100 former politicians had used campaign accounts for personal spending long after their political careers had ended. 

The personal use of campaign funds violates federal law. An amendment sponsored by Florida Reps. Kathy Castor Gus Bilirakis would require lawmakers to close campaign accounts within two years and ban payment to family members after lawmakers leave office. 

Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M. plans to introduce the HR 1 bill in the Senate in the coming weeks and the Senate bill will include the zombie provision, according to an aide. But Senate Majority leader has vowed not to bring the measure to a vote

The Campaign Legal Center complaints allege that Crenshaw and Linder’s campaign accounts were converted to multicandidate political action committees after they left office. Those accounts, which are required to contribute to at least five candidates for federal office, are not as tightly regulated as personal campaign accounts. 

“Crenshaw and Linder represent a twist in the zombie campaign story: both converted their campaign committees to multicandidate PACs, rolled-over hundreds of thousands of dollars of leftover contributions, and then used the PACs as slush funds,” Campaign Legal Center Spokesman Corey Goldstone said in an email. “Converting to a multicandidate PAC matters little: contributions received by Crenshaw and Linder when they were still candidates remain subject to federal law’s personal use ban.”

Crenshaw’s committee, Ander PAC, began with $59,867 in cash on hand after he left office in 2017, the complaint against him alleges.  In the two years it operated, it spent tens of thousands of dollars on annual credit card fees, phone bills, hotel stays, meals, and a trip to Disney World, among other expenditures, the complaint alleges. 

In a separate complaint, the Campaign Legal Center alleges that Linder converted his campaign committee to a Political Action Committee called FAIRPAC after he left office in 2014.

That committee reported no new contributions and gave little to other candidates, but it spent tens of thousands of dollars on payments to Linder’s children, phone and internet bills, and “an apparent trip to Alaska,” among other expenditures, the complaint alleges. 

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