What Happens to the Leftover Campaign Money?

Dollars funnel.

Independent Senator Bernie Sanders is sitting on millions in campaign funds for his run for the presidency. He also faces the nearly impossible goal of gaining the Democratic nomination. So when his bid comes to its conclusion, what will he do with those millions?

There’s no clear answer but one possibility just might land a Republican in the White House.

Candidates whose campaigns end unsuccessfully are not required to disperse the donations. These funds may sit in their campaign account indefinitely. However, when failed candidates dispose of these funds, they must follow a set of regulations embodied in the 1989 Ethics Reform Act and detailed in Chapter 11 of the Code of Federal Regulations. A simplified version of those regulations is listed below.


  1. Funds cannot be used for personal use.
  2. Funds may be used to pay campaign bills and debts.
  3. Funds may be returned to contributors.
  4. Funds may be donated to a charity.
  5. Funds may be donated to a political party.
  6. Funds may be donated to a political candidate.

As of this writing, Bernie Sanders’ principal campaign fund shows $17 million cash-on-hand. That amount will change as more reports come in to the FEC, showing both added donations as well as disbursements. So the cash-on-hand may rise or dip.

BS Cash Summary

Based on expenditures reported by Bernie 2016, it seems that Bernie Sanders will devote a chunk of cash to campaign debts. Contributions go out almost as quickly as they arrive. Again, referring to the FEC totals: the campaign has raised over $136 million and spent nearly $121 million. That’s a 10% to 90% income to expense ratio, great for the average citizen but tight for multi-million dollar presidential campaigns.

Independent Senator Bernie Sanders [PHOTO CREDIT: Newsweek]
There is nothing to suggest Sanders would return donations, and this is based on his ideology, his all-out approach to campaigning until June and his emphasis on continued fund-raising.

As far as giving to charities, Sanders ruled out this practice long ago. A recent article by Greg Corombus quotes the NY Times in its coverage of a United Way fund-raiser back in 1981. One of its attendees was then-Burlington Mayor Sanders. Here’s the pertinent part:

I don’t believe in charities,” said Mayor Sanders, bringing a shocked silence to a packed hotel banquet room. The mayor, who is a socialist, went on to question the ”fundamental concepts on which charities are based” and contended that government, rather than charity organizations, should take over responsibility for social programs.

This leaves options #5 and #6 – giving to a political party or to a political candidate. As of this date, Sanders has not donated any of his campaign money to down ticket Democrats. When pressed on this by MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, Sanders responded with a non-committal “We’ll see.” Just yesterday, Sanders did agree to support the Democratic nominee but that agreement did not include a transfer of campaign funds.

According to OpenSecrets, “The law allows candidates to transfer unlimited amounts of money to national party committees such as the Democratic National Committee.”

We can assume that Sanders has little motivation to help the Democrats, and based on his previous rhetoric, the same disinclination goes for the GOP. However, there is one other candidate and political party that might receive his attention.


Dr. Jill Stein is running for the presidency again, representing the Green Party. A look at her platform shows a remarkable resemblance to Sanders’ talking points. She complains about a “broken political system” and calls for a “people’s movement.”

Transferring funds to Stein would not likely result in her nomination but it would give a third-party additional exposure while diverting votes for the Democratic party nominee. Stein represents a threat rather than a possibility but the threat is real. Those who witnessed the presidential election of 2000 recall how the Ralph Nader candidacy siphoned votes from Al Gore. Those protest votes along with the “hanging chads” controversy in Florida cost Gore the election and handed it to his GOP opponent, George W. Bush.

For Democrats backing Hillary Clinton, the potential of another presidential loss due to a third-party candidate is troubling. The result could produce a President Trump or Cruz. All this talk of leftover campaign funds underlines the course of the presidential race. Democrats must wonder whether Bernie Sanders cares about the consequences if he were to swing his monetary support to Jill Stein.


Berke, Richard. “Cash of Campaigns Can Go Elsewhere.” The New York Times. 22 Jan. 1989.

Federal Election Commission. “Permissible non-campaign use of funds.” Code of Federal Regulations. 1 Jan. 2007.

Henig, Jess.”Leftover Campaign Funds.” FactCheck.org. 15 February 2008.

Spires, Steven. “Politicians Have Numerous Options for Unused Campaign Cash After Leaving Elected Office.” OpenSecrets.org.  1 March 2010.


  1. I didn’t look it up myself, but on August 15 when the June FEC report came in, AL Giordano mentioned that there were 8 million dollars left over at the end of June. He was taking bets on what it would be used for and hinting broadly that it would be saved to primary Hillary in 2020. Of course, during June #Bernie2016 fundraised to send delegates to the DNC2016, so we’ll have to get the count after July Report is filed.
    I don’t trust him.


  2. Don’t be foolish. He won’t have a dime left and will probably have to hit the speaker’s circuit (if he leaves Congress) to pay his bills–otherwise, Grifter Jane will have to do it for him. He FIRED his staff like a CAPITALIST PIG–gave the order like a CEO, made his lackey Weaver do the dirty work, didn’t TALK to the people he FIRED, didn’t look them in the eye, didn’t even give them two lousy week’s severance.

    He talks like a socialist, but he fires people like a capitalist. I’ll bet all those people he dumped without any notice and who find themselves without the rent money are feeling some kind of nasty “bern.”

    Bernie Sanders–all talk, no walk. A lying politician more interested in power than people. And NOW? He’s a failure who is shutting down a failed campaign. The only ones who “made out” were Jane and Tad Devine–they both got great paydays out of this adventure. They’re laughing all the way to that (Ooooooh) Wall Street Bank.

    And the suckers? They’re left with a few stupid signs and gifs of birds on podiums.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Color me jaded, but it’s unlikely Sanders will learn a new trick, embrace worthy charities or the DNC, and contribute wealth from his sordid campaign to a transparent effort. Since I over-see two non-profits, it’s particularly loathsome to read his disdain for charities. That’s why his sock puppet at Greenpeace who hassled Hillary over fossil fuel investments at her rally was a weird set-up. Long ago Greenpeace abandoned its root principles. It’s management won’t critique the environmental hazards of animal farming anymore than they oppose the ongoing commercial slaughter of baby harp seals by Canada’s fishermen. In fact, their creepy leaders appear in seal fur garments to court the fur industry, so Sanders’ choice of channeling their so-called activists is worse than having a tin ear, he’s in cahoots, and so is Greenpeace.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Let’s hope he does the right thing and donates the money to the DNC. Thanks for sharing information on how campaign funds are distributed after an election.

    Liked by 1 person

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