A comprehensive investigation by Houston’s KHOU, its sister stations and the Tampa Bay Times reveals campaign funds that should be defunct are still being used.
They’re being called “zombie campaigns” — funds that were gathered by politicians along the campaign trail, socked away and tapped years later. In many cases, the people using these funds were long gone from political office.
According to the report, Florida Congressman Mark Foley, driven out of office years ago after he was discovered sending sexual texts to underage boys, used campaign funds for his expenses multiple times in 2017.
One of them was a $450 meal.
Former Texas lawmaker Ron Paul is another of the nearly 100 lawmakers allegedly found to be dipping into these “zombie campaigns.” Paul left office in 2012, and now runs a nonprofit called the Foundation for Rational Education and Economics (F.R.E.E.).
KHOU contends Paul may have used money from his old campaign to help fund F.R.E.E., saying the nonprofit received 287,200 from Paul since he left office.
Former Texas Congressman Jim Turner hasn’t held office since 2004, but still has $900,000 in his campaign war chest, according to the report. That money was reportedly used to pay for rent on offices the congressman owns through a construction business, as well as to a nonprofit his daughter runs and for his wife’s services as his campaign treasurer.
When asked why he was still holding onto the money by a KHOU reporter who noted it had been “more than a dozen years” since he was in office, Turner replied, “I’ve always felt I might have an opportunity to run for office again.”
In some cases, the politicians in question weren’t even alive, and their campaigns were still giving out money. The campaign accounts of the late Hawaii Congressman Mark Takai paid out more than $100,000 to political advisor Dylan Beesley for consulting services over the past 17 months. Takai passed away July 20, 2016.
There are no ironclad laws concerning the use of the funds. “Personal use” is prohibited, but very loosely defined, according to KHOU.
What investigators found most troubling was that these were campaign contributions given to a candidate with the understanding they’d be spent on getting that person elected. Instead, states the report:
…former politicians and their staffers are hoarding unspent campaign donations for years and using them to finance their lifestyle, advance their new careers and pay family members.
“It is always important to remember that the laws governing office holder use of funds are written by office holders, and so they write them loose,” said Souther Methodist University Professor of Political Science Cal Jillson.
A spokesman for the Federal Election Commission, the agency in charge of enforcing rules in connection with campaign spending, told KHOU they weren’t able to comment on a case that may be under investigation in the future.