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John is a candidate for Congress. His campaign committee consists of himself and a treasurer (or perhaps only himself). Before the election, he suddenly dies. His campaign has raised but not spent $1 million.

John's wife wants to spend that money supporting candidates she likes in other races. John's replacement on the ballot wants to spend the money on his own campaign. John's political party wants to spend the money on party operations. John's treasurer wants to spend the money to pay off campaign debts and establish a nonprofit in the candidate's name.

Who gets control of the money?

2 Answers 2

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The Federal Election Committee's Congressional candidates and committees campaign guide (212-page PDF) has lots of information about how campaigns must be run under federal law.

All candidates for US Federal offices with over $5000 of donations or expenditures are required to register a campaign committee with the FEC. Campaign donations are generally accepted by the campaign committee (not the candidate himself/herself) and disbursed by same.

Within 15 days after an individual becomes a candidate as described in Section 1, he or she must designate a principal campaign committee. This designation is made by filing either a Statement of Candidacy (FEC Form 2) or a letter with the same information. 101.1(a) and 102.12(a).

Within 10 days after it has been designated by the candidate, the principal campaign committee must register with the FEC by filing a Statement of Organization (FEC Form 1). 52 U.S.C. §§ 30102(g), 30103(a); 102.1(a).

This committee would probably still exist after the candidate's death,* and would be responsible for any decisions regarding the disposition of remaining campaign funds at that time (just as if the candidate had withdrawn from the race.) So by law, the answer is "the campaign committee".

The FEC does place restrictions on what a campaign can do with leftover funds, but the options are:

  • Settling debts. Note, in fact, that the campaign committee cannot terminate its operations if it has any outstanding debts or obligations. (p. 137 of the FEC guide)
  • Start a non-profit organization.
  • Convert to a multicandidate committee (this is really just a special type of non-profit, I suppose.)
  • Donate the unused funds to charity.
  • Donate the unused funds to another candidate's committee, subject to a $2000 limit. (p. 19)
  • Donate the unused funds to a party organization (no limit as far as I can tell.)

So:

  • The treasurer's idea of paying off the debts is in fact required by law before the committee can wind down its operations.
  • The campaign committee can't send more than $2000 directly to any other federal candidate, so John's wife and John's replacement are constrained in this regard.

Beyond that, where the funds end up will depend on who is on the campaign committee and what procedures the committee uses to make decisions.


*Technically, it appears to be legal for the candidate to be both treasurer and custodian of records for their own campaign — which are the only two positions on the committee required by law. It is conceivable that a campaign organized in this way could end up with "orphaned" funds, without anyone authorized to dispose of them. I'm not sure what would happen in this case.

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  • I've clarified the question above to narrow more on the information I'm looking for. I'm less interested in whether the proposed expenditures are lawful than in learning who decides what happens to the money. It sounds like you're saying it depends on who is on the committee, and that the committee may be no one but the treasurer and the candidate. Would that mean the treasurer takes full control of the campaign fund? Or does he have some sort of quorum issue that precludes him from taking any action?
    – bdb484
    Apr 18, 2022 at 16:37
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    @bdb484: As far as I can tell the only required officers on the committee are the treasurers and the custodian of records, and both offices can be held by the same person (who might even be the candidate himself!) It's possible that there are other structural requirements that I don't know about, though. Also, it might be worth asking about the typical organization & processes of a campaign committee over on Politics; that could give you more information about "best practices" rather than what is required by law. Apr 18, 2022 at 17:06
  • So I'm imagining a situation where the candidate occupies all these spots. Do we know who controls the campaign funds in the event of his death?
    – bdb484
    Apr 18, 2022 at 18:30
  • @bdb484 In the last paragraph, that is precisely what I said I did not know. :-) Apr 18, 2022 at 18:32
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    The organizational documents will generally say, but courts can imply a disposition in law based upon FEC rules and the cy pres doctrine, if they are defective and fail to provide for this possibility.
    – ohwilleke
    Apr 18, 2022 at 21:21
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In the case of a federal election, the political committee has control. That committee has a duty to pay debts that it has incurred. It then depends on the relationship between the party / wife / replacement candidate and that committee. All three are viable possibilities (the regulations define many kinds of committees), and none of the wife, party or other candidate in that party have a overriding controlling interest in "other people's money".

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    This moves in the direction of an answer, but I guess the question becomes "who is on the committee"? My understanding is that the committee is usually just the candidate and the treasurer; this suggests the treasurer therefore has complete control over the funds, but that doesn't seem like it can be right.
    – bdb484
    Apr 18, 2022 at 16:34
  • @bdb484: The (initial) membership of the committee is determined by the candidate in their filing with the FEC.
    – Kevin
    Apr 19, 2022 at 15:57

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