Where does leftover campaign money go?

In our Oct. 21 edition, the Republic-Times reported on the campaign donations and expenditures for five key local, state and federal races. 

The election is over in all those contests, but many of the campaigns still have leftover funds after not spending all the money they raised.

According to the latest information from the Illinois State Board of Elections and Reform for Illinois’ Sunshine Database, candidate committees associated with Nathan Reitz, David Friess, George Green and Lucas Liefer have the largest outstanding fund balances among local races. 

Those committees still have over $300,000, $195,000, $4,700 and $2,600 cash on hand, respectively. Those totals do not include spending after September because that data is not yet available.  

With over half a million dollars unspent, that raises the question of what happens to that money now. 

Perhaps most importantly, federal and state laws prohibit candidates from spending excess money for personal use. 

“In no case shall these funds be used for the personal aggrandizement of any committee member or campaign voter,” the Illinois State Board of Election emphasizes in its rules and regulations governing dissolved or inactive committees. 

The Federal Election Commission is a little more broad, but it is still clear. 

“Using campaign funds for personal use is prohibited,” the commission’s website states.

Before they can do anything with the excess funds, committees must pay all their expenses and debts, including paying staff members.

Once that is done, candidate committees have numerous options, with one of the most common being using excess funds to prepare for the next election, saving the leftover money or transferring it to a different committee. 

Similarly, they can use leftover money to pay what the FEC terms “winding down costs,” such as moving expenses associated with setting up a new office. 

They can also make “unlimited transfers to any national state or local political party committee” or to state and local candidates as state law allows, per the FEC.  

The Illinois State Board of Elections stipulates that any transfers to political organizations must be made to entities “with the positions of the committee or the candidates it represented.” 

That same rule applies to charities, as committees can also donate to those organizations, provided the candidate does not receive compensation from the charity before it has spent the entire donation. 

Using campaign funds to buy gifts or “make donations of nominal value to persons other than the members of the candidate’s family” is also permissible in certain circumstances, according to the FEC. 

A final option available to candidate committees in Illinois, the state board of election states, is refunding donors “in amounts not exceeding their individual contributions.”

For more information on  campaign contributions and how they are spent, go to elections.il.gov.

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James Moss

James is an alumni of Southern Illinois University Edwardsville where he graduated summa cum laude with degrees in mass communications and applied communications studies. While in school, he interned at two newspapers and worked at a local grocery store to pay for his education. When not working for the Republic-Times, he enjoys watching movies, reading, playing video games and spending time with his friends.
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