This article discusses the use of campaign funds for transition expenses by newly-elected U.S. Representatives and Senators and by members of Congress leaving office due to retirement, election loss or resignation.
Basic rules for using campaign funds
Campaign funds may be used to pay for campaign-related expenses and for ordinary and necessary expenses incurred in connection with an individual’s duties as a federal officeholder. 52 U.S.C. § 30114(a); 11 CFR 113.2. The Federal Election Campaign Act (the Act), however, prohibits the use of campaign funds for an individual’s personal expenses. 52 U.S.C. § 30114(b)(1); 11 CFR 113.1(g).
Under the Commission’s “irrespective test,” personal use is any use of funds in a campaign account of a candidate (or former candidate) to fulfill a commitment, obligation or expense of any person that would exist irrespective of the candidate’s campaign or duties as a federal officeholder.11 CFR 113.1(g). In other words, if the expense would exist even in the absence of the candidacy or even if the officeholder were not in office, then campaign funds may not be used to pay for the expense.
House and Senate Ethics rules, over which the Commission has no jurisdiction, also address the use of campaign funds. See the links under “Resources” for more information on Ethics rules.
Use of campaign funds by newly-elected Members
In Advisory Opinions (AOs), the Commission has said that a Member-elect may use campaign funds for certain common transition expenses:
- Salary for support staff. See AOs 1982-57 (MacKay), 1980-138 (Murkowski) and Re: AOR 1976-101 (Moynihan);
- Winding down a campaign office and maintenance of a transition office. AOs 1982-57 (MacKay), 1980-138 (Murkowski), Re: AOR 1976-101 (Moynihan);
- Travel to DC. AOs 1982-57 (MacKay), 1980-138 (Murkowski);
- Swearing-in reception. AO 1981-02 (Coyne);
- Party to thank campaign workers or kick-off re-election campaign. AO 1981-02 (Coyne); and
- Moving family to DC. AO 1980-138 (Murkowski)
However, use of campaign funds to pay personal living expenses during the transition constitutes prohibited personal use. AO 1980-138.
Use of campaign funds by members leaving Congress (due to retirement, election loss or resignation)
Campaign funds may be used to pay for ordinary and necessary expenses incurred in connection with an individual’s duties as a federal officeholder. Such expenses include the costs of winding down the office of a former federal officeholder for a period of six months after he or she leaves office. 11 CFR 113.2(a)(2).
In AOs and regulations, the Commission has permitted the use of campaign funds to pay for:
- Salaries for staff and maintenance of FEC records during winding-down period. AO 1993-06 (Panetta)
- Moving expenses for office and personal furnishings. AOs 1996-44 (Wilson), 1996-14 (de la Garza); 1987-11 (Zorinsky)
- Temporary storage expenses for personal household items while selling house in Washington, D.C.: AO 2010-26 (Baird)
- Temporary storage expenses for officeholder and campaign materials pending their final disposition. AO 2013-05 (Gallegly)
- Hotel and travel expenses related to leaving Congress. AO 1993-06 (Panetta).
- Gifts of nominal value to individuals who are not in the Member’s family. 11 CFR 113.1(g)(4). For example, a campaign may use its funds to give a gift card of a small amount as a thank you to a campaign staff person, as long as that individual is not related to the candidate.
For more information
Contact the FEC’s Information Division toll-free at 800-424-9530 (press 6) or email at firstname.lastname@example.org should you have further questions. Members of Congress and their staff may also contact the FEC’s Congressional Affairs office at 202-694-1006. For information on how to report transition expenses, contact your committee’s Campaign Finance Analyst.