Taking it with them: Members leaving with money in the bank

Kate Ackley, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in Political News

WASHINGTON — Rep. Devin Nunes holds an enviable political war chest of more than $12 million heading into next year’s elections. Even after announcing Monday he would soon abandon his seat, the California Republican is under no obligation to purge the money or to return it to his donors.

The phrase “you can’t take it with you” doesn’t apply to departing members of Congress.

More than 20 sitting lawmakers who have said they’re leaving after the 117th Congress — or in Nunes’ case, in the middle of it — will hit the exits with nearly $53 million in combined leftover political cash, including in their campaign accounts and separate leadership PACs. A few more have already left. Nunes said he will resign later this month to join a new media enterprise founded by former President Donald Trump.

Additional congressional retirements are expected over the coming weeks, leaving even more political cash in limbo.

Some departing members give refunds. Most often, they donate the money to political committees and charities, or they hang on to the funds to dole out after they’ve left office. Some may keep their political money around in case they make another run for office in the future.

“There are a lot of different things that the retiring members can use the funds for,” said Michael Toner, a former chairman of the Federal Election Commission who heads the election law and government ethics practice at law firm Wiley. “There’s no deadline by which federal officeholders have to close up their campaign accounts or leadership PAC accounts.”


Retiring lawmakers who keep their campaign committees active continue to face disclosure requirements, and there are limits on how much they can donate to candidates or other PACs. They may give an unlimited amount, however, from their reelection accounts to party committees.

“One of the first calls they’ll get when they say they’re retiring is from party committee officials, given that reality,” Toner said.

There was a time, before the Watergate-era overhauls and a late-1980s repeal of a provision that grandfathered some members’ accounts, that departing lawmakers could use leftover campaign funds almost as a supplemental pension.

Today, officials face a prohibition on using that money for personal expenses. Any earnings generated by the accounts are subject to taxes. But former members, including those who take gigs in the private sector, such as the K Street lobbying corridor, may continue to donate money to their onetime colleagues after leaving office.


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