Last week, political committees filed quarterly campaign reports with the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) that outline the money spent in pursuit of winning Minnesota Congressional elections.
Among them was the campaign committee for First District Rep. Jim Hagedorn, who was running for reelection when he died in February, following treatment for cancer.
Hagedorn’s campaign committee reported having roughly $345,000 on hand at the close of the reporting period on March 31 — more money than any candidate running to succeed Hagedorn has raised.
So what happens to campaign cash when a candidate dies? It is not legal to use campaign money for anyone’s personal use, so does it get returned to donors? Can it be transferred to another candidate? Here’s a look at the FEC rules.
The FEC, the federal body that enforces campaign finance laws, has strict rules surrounding how political campaign money can be spent when a federal candidate is no longer running for office, including in the event of a candidate’s death.
If a candidate dies, their campaign treasurer is in charge of managing their political committee, and must file reports until the campaign committee is terminated.
In the case of Hagedorn, the treasurer listed is Thomas Datwyler, a campaign finance compliance consultant (we left a voicemail at a number listed for Datwyler on a campaign finance report to ask about plans for Hagedorn’s campaign money and have not heard back).
The treasurer may spend campaign committee money on winding down expenses, which can include paying committee staff, buying nominal gifts for non-family members and donations to charitable organizations.
The candidate may also donate that money to other political candidates, subject to campaign finance laws.
For example, a federal candidate’s campaign committee can donate up to $2,000 per election to another federal candidate’s committee. This could hypothetically include Hagedorn’s wife, former Minnesota Republican Party Chair Jennifer Carnahan, who is running for his seat, FEC spokesperson Myles Martin said in an email.
The candidate may also donate to state or local candidates, subject to those jurisdictions’ rules. In the case of Minnesota, state candidates are prohibited from accepting donations from federal candidates, including in the event that a federal candidate dies, according to Megan Engelhardt, assistant executive director of the Minnesota State Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board.
Campaign committees may also make unlimited transfers to national, state or local party committees, subject to federal, state and local laws.
The FEC also says leftover campaign money can be used for “Any other lawful purpose, unless expressly prohibited by the Federal Election Campaign Act.”
That can potentially include a lot of things, among them, refunds to donors.
Hagedorn’s campaign committee appears to be refunding some donors in the wake of his death. The committee reported roughly $210,000 in refunds to individuals in the first quarter, many with transaction dates in March, following Hagedorn’s death.
The committee also reported $16,500 in refunds to candidate committees and PACs, including Nehls for Congress (the committee of Texas Rep. Troy Nehls), Scalise for Congress (Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise), the Eye of the Tiger PAC, the Making America Prosperous PAC, the Majority Committee PAC and (Ohio Rep.) Jim Jordan for Congress.