Surplus campaign cash has options

Orange, Greene sit on thousands in unspent funds

By Dameon Pesanti, Columbian staff writer



So much money poured into the hotly contested Port of Vancouver Commission District 1 election that neither Commissioner-elect Don Orange nor his opponent Kris Greene could spend it before Election Day was over.

Now, both candidates are sitting on thousands of dollars in leftover campaign donations — Orange has $3,897.63 remaining while Greene has $119,518 — according to the latest reports each campaign filed with the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission.

So what are they supposed to do with what’s left?

First, they need to pay any outstanding campaign bills and settle all their expenses, which could take some time. From there they have some options for whatever might be left over.

“After they’ve closed out their campaigns, paid all their debts and all their expenses, that money would become what we’d call surplus,” PDC spokeswoman Kim Bradford said.

Orange’s campaign expenses include the costs of hiring a lawyer to defend his candidacy late in the summer after a Republican activist petitioned Clark County Superior Court and later the Clark County Canvassing Board to have Orange’s name removed from the ballot.

Bradford said those legal fees are related to his campaign expenses and thus can be covered with active campaign funds.

Linda McLain, Orange’s campaign treasurer, said his campaign will be in debt due to the cost of the lawsuit and other costs the campaign has incurred.

Bradford said candidates have options for surplus campaign funds, but the state sets limits on how they can be used.

For one, the money can’t be given to another candidate, but contributions may be refunded to the donors, up to the amount they gave.

Candidates can reimburse themselves for any income they would have received had they been working rather than running for office. However, they aren’t supposed to pay themselves for more than they would have normally made.

The surplus funds can be given, without a limit, to a political party or a legislative caucus committee, or a charity.

Also, the candidate can give it to the state treasurer as a contribution to the state general fund, the state legislative oral history, state library, archives account, or the legislative international trade account.

Lastly, the money can be saved in the campaign account for a possible future run for the office the candidate originally campaigned for.

If the former candidate has leftover cash and decides to run for a different position they can use the surplus money from their previous campaign, but only with contributors’ written permission.

Surplus funds can even be invested in bonds, mutual funds and other financial tools, but certain rules apply when going that route.

If the candidate is elected, he or she can also use them for nonreimbursed expenses related to public office, but the candidate is required to create a separate surplus fund bank account.

The PDC recommends candidates pay the costs out of pocket, then try to be reimbursed later.

“Anything that can be personal in nature would be problematic,” Bradford said.

For example, a newly elected person wouldn’t be able to use surplus campaign funds to buy a car. But they might be able to have some of the car’s costs reimbursed if they used it while in office.

“If you’re buying a car and estimate 25 percent of your time you will be using it on the road for your new post, we would recommend you pay that out of your personal funds then seek to be reimbursed out of surplus funds for the portion that directly relates to your job,” Bradford said.

Whatever they do with it, candidates have to report to the PDC how the surplus cash is spent or invested.

Surplus campaign funds are pretty common in Washington state politics.

“You especially see that in areas where the Legislature was uncontested or didn’t face a rigorous challenge and have the money left over,” Bradford said.

More than 400 candidates have surplus accounts registered with the PDC, including outgoing District 1 port Commissioner Brian Wolfe and former Port of Vancouver District 2 Commissioner Nancy Baker.