Darrell Issa and his $1 million in leftover campaign funds
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Vista, listens during a meeting at his office in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 7, 2017. (Courtesy Rep. Issa/Flickr)

Darrell Issa and his $1 million in leftover campaign funds

What will Rep. Darrell Issa, one of the richest men in Congress, do with the more than $1 million in his campaign coffer now that he is officially not running for re-election?

The Vista Republican hasn’t said publicly how he plans to use the money. His office didn’t respond this week to requests by inewsource for comment.

Thirty-four House members are retiring or have already left office this term. Each of them, including Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Vista, can now decide how to use millions of dollars in leftover campaign contributions.

But what we do know is that Issa has a range of options. He just has to follow the Federal Election Commission’s special rules for these surplus funds.

Issa announced in January he wouldn’t seek re-election to a 10th term, and that became official on March 9 — the deadline for incumbents to announce their intentions to run again. There were reports he might jump into the race for Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter’s East County seat, but he didn’t file to run in that district either.

At the end of December, Issa had about $1,052,000 in his Issa for Congress re-election campaign account. He has probably raised more money since then, but we won’t see the details until they’re laid out in his next financial report due April 15.

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Here are some of the ways Issa can use his leftover campaign cash:

  • Spend it on normal duties as an elected official until his term is up.
  • Donate it to charity.
  • Use it to help cover the costs of leaving office, like moving from Washington, D.C., to California, but he has to do that within six months of leaving office.
  • Contribute as much as he wants to any local, state or national political party.
  • Donate to other candidates running for federal office, up to $2,000 per candidate.
  • Donate to state or local candidates’ campaigns within the legal limits.
  • Transfer the funds to a committee he creates for a future campaign.

Each of these options has caveats and fine details — we’re talking about campaign finance laws, after all. They are detailed here on the FEC’s website.

And what can’t Issa do with his $1 million-plus in campaign funds?

He can’t use them on personal expenses, which includes paying for household items, clothes, rent, tuition and other costs he would have outside of his duties as a congressman. (Issa recently reported his minimum net worth at $283.3 million, so he probably doesn’t personally need the cash.)

The takeaway for donors to political campaigns is that they don’t have much of a say in how candidates spend the funds.

“For people who contributed money to make friends or support ideological positions or support a politician they like — they’ve made their decision, and what happens after that is out of their hands,” said Gary Jacobson, a political science professor at the University of California San Diego.

But there is one instance where donors have some say over Issa’s leftover contributions. He will have to return more than $100,000 from donors who gave to him for the November general election, though they can give Issa’s campaign written permission to use the money another way.

Issa could also just shut down his campaign committee. To do that, he has to settle the $10,000 in debts the campaign noted on its last financial report and tell the FEC how he plans to use any leftover assets and money. Then the FEC can decide whether to close it.

But no law says these kinds of federal campaign accounts ever need to shut down, and many politicians keep them open long after the races they were funding have ended.

Issa’s next financial report is due in April. His plans may become clearer then.

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About Jill Castellano:

Jill Castellano
Jill Castellano is an investigative reporter and data analyst for inewsource. To contact her with tips, suggestions or corrections, please email jillcastellano [at] inewsource [dot] org.