Candidates from Clark County who sought seats in the federal or state government raised $10.45 million during the 2020 election cycle.
The election is over, and not all of those funds were spent over the course of the three congressional campaigns, eight state Senate campaigns and 11 state House campaigns waged by those 22 local candidates.
So, as one reader called in to The Columbian to ask, where do all the leftovers go?
For federal races, the Federal Elections Commission issues guidance on how surplus campaign funds can be used.
Candidates generally use remaining funds to reimburse themselves and their staff for costs incurred by the election. According to the FEC, “campaign funds may be used to pay ordinary and necessary expenses incurred in connection with one’s duties as a federal officeholder.” Legal expenditures include payments to staff, moving expenses, and gifts “of nominal value to persons other than the members of the candidate’s family.”
Incumbents or candidates who plan to run again can hang onto the funds for a future campaign. When Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler launched her 2020 bid — the Republican congresswoman’s sixth campaign — she rolled over around $260,000. Democrat Carolyn Long, who challenged her in 2018 and again in 2020, carried over around $11,500.
Campaigns winding down can donate a limited amount of money directly to another candidate, or an unlimited amount to any national, state, or local party committee — Michael Bloomberg, for instance, gave $18 million to the Democratic National Committee when he ended his presidential run during the primaries.
Other leftovers can go toward a legally recognized charity.
Fundraising guidelines for state legislative positions are outlined by Washington’s Public Disclosure Commission. Those rules are guided by a similar principle: Candidates have quite a bit of flexibility in how they use leftover funds, as long as they don’t benefit personally.
The PDC allows for campaign contributions to be returned directly to the people and organizations who donated to the candidate. The money can also go to a political party, caucus or charity of the candidate’s choice. As with federal candidacies, state candidates also may bank surplus funds for a future campaign.
State candidates can also reimburse their personal bank accounts “as payment for earnings lost as a result of campaigning, so long as the lost earnings can be documented, the payment does not exceed what the candidate would have otherwise earned, and all payments are properly recorded and reported,” the PDC states.
What about the signs?
Following a campaign, the candidate’s staff or volunteers will generally collect campaign signs posted around the jurisdiction. The candidate can store their signs for a future campaign or toss them.
According to Erin Schneider, a spokesperson for Long’s campaign, staffers went out two days after Election Day to collect the campaign materials posted around the 3rd Congressional District. Tanisha Harris, a Democrat who sought a House seat in the 17th Legislative District, said she assembled a “sign crew” to gather her signs posted on public property.
“Some individual homes will keep their sign for the next election,” Harris added.
And if they want to dump the signs? According to Loretta Callahan, spokesperson for Vancouver’s Public Works Department, the city’s solid waste team issues guidance for different kinds of signs.
For plastic or plastic-coated signs, “There are no local recycling curbside or drop-off options for these type political, ad or outdoor signs,” she wrote in an email to The Columbian. “These signs (are) typically made out of plastic or plastic-coated paper in order to hold up to the elements. They should be disposed of as trash if no longer wanted.”
Callahan said people often seek to repurpose or reuse the H-shaped wire bases usually used to stake yard signs into the ground.
“If unusable or no longer wanted, metal, a valuable resource, can best be recycled at drop-off locations,” Callahan wrote.
A list of local recyclers that accept scrap metal can be found online at the Recycling A-Z Directory, at www.cityofvancouver.us/RecycleRight.