FEC allows candidates to more easily pay themselves from campaign funds

A new rule allowing federal candidates to more easily draw salaries from their campaign funds went into effect Friday.

The new rule aims to remedy a commonly-cited barrier to working Americans considering running for office, which is often an all-consuming and expensive endeavor.

“It’s an exciting day in campaign finance world! Today our updated candidate salary regulations are officially in effect!” Federal Election Commission (FEC) Commissioner Dara Lindenbaum wrote on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.

“Federal candidates can begin to draw salaries from their campaign committees when they file their statement of candidacy with the @FEC at a rate of up to 50% of the minimum US house salary or the average income they earned in the last five years, whichever is lower,” Lindenbaum continued.

The average U.S. House member earns $174,000 per year, according to a Congressional Research Service report. Incumbent federal officeholders cannot receive compensation from campaign funds under the updated rule.

Strict limits on when and how much campaign funds candidates could use to pay themselves a salary were initially set to avoid improper personal use of donor funds. Compensation was tied to their earnings from the previous year, and candidates could not start drawing a paycheck until the candidate filing deadline in their state, which varies widely.

Critics said this discouraged people who are young, unemployed or working in the home from running for office.

A Pew Research Center survey of 8,480 American adults in July 2023 found 85 percent said the cost of campaigns made it difficult for good candidates to run for office.

The FEC approved revisions to the rule in December 2023 following a petition by Georgia state Sen. Nabilah Islam (D), who submitted a petition for rulemaking after she left her job to run for Congress in Georgia’s 7th Congressional District during the 2020 election cycle.

“If we want a representative democracy with lawmakers that share our lived experiences, we need to eliminate the financial barriers that prevent so many qualified Americans from running for office,” Islam told commissioners during an FEC meeting last March.

Rep. Maxwell Frost (D-Fla.) also attended the meeting last spring to champion reforms that would make it easier for candidates to draw a livable wage while they campaign.

Frost, the first Generation Z member of Congress, said he worked as a part-time Uber driver during his campaign. But that couldn’t cover the cost of living and his credit took a hit as he racked up debt, which led a landlord in D.C. to deny his application for an apartment, the Democrat said.

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The commission opted not to allow candidates to use campaign funds to cover their health care, although they are allowed to use campaign funds to insure staff.

“In sum, although this rulemaking did not extend as far as it could have, we remain optimistic that it will enable more people to run for office,” Lindenbaum and Commissioners Shana Broussard and Ellen Weintraub said in a statement after the rule passed in December.

“We applaud these individuals for speaking up and sharing their stories. We hope that by doing so, they chip away at the stigma that often comes with taking compensation as a candidate,” the commissioners added. “We hope that future candidates who make the decision to draw compensation for the real work they do to advance their own campaigns will do so without shame.”

Copyright 2024 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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