Tampa Bay Times, 10News WTSP investigation reveals Zombie Campaigns

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Government ethics experts say former congressional candidates for political office are supposed to refund campaign money once an election ends and candidates give up plans to run again. But some campaigns continue spending money years after their races are over or they leave office.  

A joint investigation by the Tampa Bay Times and 10News WTSP found at least 100 Zombie Campaigns nationwide where spending remains brisk despite the lack of viable campaigns, or in the most egregious cases, living candidates. Reporters from the Times and 10News spent a year reviewing one million records from the Federal Elections Commission and found rampant flouting of federal law, which prevents spending campaign money on personal expenses or costs unrelated to elections. The investigation uncovered campaign money that was spent on rent, tickets to sporting events and family members' salaries. Other outrages included:

  • A political operative paying himself a hefty salary to consult on a campaign 18 months after his former boss died.
  • Congressmen who used leftover campaign cash to fund posh dinners and country club memberships.
  • Former lawmakers who made donations designed to boost their new careers as lobbyists.

The project appears on tampabay.com/zombiecampaigns and zombiecampaigns.com. The Times published its story in print on Sunday, Feb. 4.

"We were stunned by some of the examples of spending we found by former politicians across America, years after they left office, just sitting in public records," said Times Investigations Editor Adam Playford, who oversaw the project. "We were glad for the chance to shed light on this questionable spending and for the help we received from our collaboration with TEGNA's reporters."

 Added Mike Rodriguez, president and general manager, 10News WTSP: "Our team conducted a thorough investigation into campaign finance law and exposed inconsistent interpretation of these very laws, which were created to protect the public's voice. I'm incredibly proud of this journalistic collaboration and the outcome of our investigation."

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