FEC makes it easier for candidates to use campaign dollars to pay themselves

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Starting next year, federal candidates can more easily use campaign funds to pay themselves salaries, under a rule approved Thursday by federal election regulators.

The change, which the Federal Election Commission approved 5-1, is aimed at helping ensure that Americans of modest means can afford to mount campaigns for Congress and the White House, its proponents say.

Earlier this year, several candidates testified about the financial hardships they confronted while seeking office. They included Florida Rep. Maxwell Frost, who in 2022 became the first Gen Z candidate to win a House seat.

The Democrat described the struggle of trying to work part-time as an Uber driver while campaigning for the House. His financial picture grew so grim that a landlord in Washington denied the incoming congressman’s application for an apartment because of his bad credit.

The new rules “will help ordinary, working-class Americans to represent their communities by running for federal office,” said FEC Commissioner Shana Broussard, a Democrat who championed the rule change. It was first requested back in 2021 by Nabilah Islam, a former congressional candidate and a Democrat who now serves in the Georgia state Senate.

Although the FEC has long allowed candidates to use campaign funds to pay themselves a salary, the agency had set strict limits on that compensation to avoid improper personal use of donors’ money. In many cases, the salary was tied to their earnings in the year before they became a candidate. Additionally, they could not start drawing a paycheck until the candidate filing deadlines in their states – which vary widely across the country.

Critics of the old system said it discouraged people who were students, unemployed or working in the home caring for children in the prior year from seeking office.

Under the new rules, candidates can use campaign funds to pay themselves up to 50% of the annual US House salary or the equivalent of the average annual income they earned during a longer look-back period – the previous five calendar years – whichever is lower.

Rank-and-file House members earn $174,000 a year.

Additionally, the payments can start when they file their statements of candidacy with the Federal Election Commission and can run for 20 days after winning or losing the election or otherwise ending their campaigns.

The rule change will take effect on March 1, 2024, and reflects a rare bipartisan agreement on the commission – where Democrats and Republicans each hold three seats and often deadlock on along partisan lines.

One Republican, Commissioner James “Trey” Trainor, voted against the rule change Thursday, saying the FEC has never had the authority from Congress to allow candidates to use donors’ money for their own salaries.

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