Lawmakers Benefit From ‘Zombie’ Campaign Accounts Long After Leaving Office

Ex-politicians use campaign cash to pay family members, rent office space and buy computer equipment.

By Jill Ament & César Lopez-LinaresFebruary 6, 2018 1:32 pm|

Political campaigns cost a lot of money, and candidates and officeholders spend plenty of time raising what they need to get elected. The money pays for things like renting office space, hiring staff and buying advertising. But what happens to funds that are left over in a campaign bank account after a politician leaves office or even after he or she dies?

The Tampa Bay Times and its partner TV stations recently found that the owners of plenty of so-called “zombie campaigns” continue to use unspent campaign money to finance their lifestyles and pay family members.

Christopher O’Donnell, a reporter for the paper says he and his colleagues found zombie campaigns all over the country, including Texas.

“We found more than 100 of these so-called zombie campaigns,” O’Donnell says. “In Texas that included Jim Turner, former Democratic lawmaker,” Turner used the money from his campaign account to pay rent several years after he left office. He also bought computer equipment and paid his wife to complete required reports to the Federal Election Commission.

A surprising zombie campaign spender found by the investigation was libertarian hero, and former Texas GOP Congressman, Ron Paul, who ran for president in 2012. Paul used his unspent campaign money to pay his daughter over $16,000 to do paperwork.

O’Donnell says rules for how lawmakers can use campaign funds after they leave office are hazy.

“There really aren’t any separate rules for when you leave office,” he says. “The rules basically say you can spend campaign donations on the cost of being in office, the cost of campaigning…But these zombie campaigns, many of them keep on praying for those things after they’ve finished in politics.”

O’Donnell says of the 100 zombie campaigns his team found, 20 accounts were being used by lawmakers who have been out of office more than ten years.

“We found eight campaigns where the candidate had died either in office or after leaving office and their treasurer or other  campaign staff were still paying themselves or just paying out certain costs,” O’Donnell says.

Written by Angela Bonilla.