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.
REGULATED USE OF EXCESS CAMPAIGN DONATIONS
- Funds cannot be used for personal use.
- Funds may be used to pay campaign bills and debts.
- Funds may be returned to contributors.
- Funds may be donated to a charity.
- Funds may be donated to a political party.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.