There’s a perception in the world at large that politicians are allowed to use their personal left-over campaign funds for anything – fancy houses, nice cars, their kids’ college education, a pony – whatever they want. In fact, they can’t. Under federal law, when an incumbent loses any remaining campaign money cannot be used for personal expenses. It must be donated to the campaigns of other lawmakers, to political parties or to charities.
That’s why I found a new report from the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) called “No Strings Attached” to be both a useful overview of what happens with left-over campaign funds while at the same time maybe not as shocking a message to those outside the beltway as one might think. CREW found that members of Congress who become lobbyists spend more of their left-over money on political contributions than those former members of Congress who went into other professions.
OK, so, yeah. On the negative side this does leave the impression that legislators are “buying off” those they want to influence. Or on the positive side one could interpret it as an investment in getting people elected who are most likely to agree with the newly minted lobbyist’s views. They are, after all, in the persuasion profession. It’s a lot easier to persuade someone who sees the world as you do than otherwise.
In short, the authors suggest that the shockingly negative news of the report was that those former lawmakers who move into the lobbying profession shift whatever was left from their campaigns to the political coffers of others. In my opinion there’s a shockingly positive spin as well – members of Congress aren’t allowed to buy ponies with their excess campaign funds. And this is really where the American populace is in terms of their views of our political system. Now that’s truly shocking.