The ZOMBIE Act Would Require Politicians to Close Campaign Accounts if They Are No Longer Running for Office or Register as a Lobbyist or Foreign Agent
Washington D.C. – Today, Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet introduced the Zeroing Out Money for Buying Influence after Elections (ZOMBIE) Act. The bill would require politicians to close their campaign accounts if they are no longer running for federal office and before they register as a lobbyist or foreign agent. When politicians retire or lose an election, they often have significant campaign funds left over. These “zombie accounts” can allow politicians to use unspent campaign funds to buy influence and fuel Washington’s corrupt “pay-to-play” politics. U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) is a co-sponsor of the bill.
“When a politician is no longer running for office or registers as a lobbyist, they shouldn’t have millions in the bank leftover from their old campaigns,” said Bennet. “These zombie accounts help fuel the pay-to-play culture in Washington that is corroding the American people’s faith in our government. My bill with Senator Warren would zero out these accounts for good.”
These “zombie accounts” are especially problematic when former elected officials work for lobbying firms. Under existing rules, it is perfectly legal for former elected officials to become lobbyists and make donations through their old campaign accounts to old colleagues with jurisdiction over areas of direct interest to their new clients. These funds can also allow consultants and family members to continue receiving paychecks from the campaign account long after an election is over, and even in some cases, after the politician has died.
In collaboration with the Daily Beast, a report from the Campaign Legal Center revealed that former Members of Congress who registered as foreign agents often used their old campaign accounts to contribute to the same legislators they were lobbying on behalf of foreign governments like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Albania. The report also found that, as of 2019, at least 17 former Members of Congress registered as agents of foreign governments or foreign political parties since 2014 kept their former campaign accounts -- often with millions of dollars in unused donations. According to OpenSecrets.org, unsuccessful candidates from the ten most expensive Senate races in 2020 still had over $35 million combined in their bank accounts three months after the election.
"It's wrong for former members of Congress to finance extravagant lifestyles with leftover campaign funds. It only serves to further erode the public's faith in their elected officials. We applaud Sen. Bennet for his leadership on these issues and commitment to transparency and accountability," said Tiffany Muller, President, End Citizens United / Let America Vote Action Fund.
"Among other things, the ZOMBIE Act would stop politicians-turned-foreign agents from using leftover campaign funds to advance the interests of their foreign government clients. The bill is an important measure that prevents leftover campaign funds from being used to offset personal expenses or advance a politician's post-congressional lobbying career," said Brendan Fischer, federal reform program director at Campaign Legal Center.
“When members of Congress who retire or lose re-election maintain unspent ‘war chests,’ these funds can contribute to a corrupt ‘pay-to-play’ system of politics. In introducing the ZOMBIE Act, we appreciate Senator Bennet and Senator Warren’s ’s efforts to ensure our campaign finance laws work to amplify the voices of everyday Americans and not allow former members of Congress to cash in on their political relationships and leftover campaign funds to benefit special interest lobbying clients,” said Paul S. Ryan, Vice President for Policy and Litigation at the non-partisan watchdog Common Cause.
"Public Citizen applauds Senators Bennet and Warren for introducing the ZOMBIE Act. Its ominous name highlights an egregious abuse, as politicians leaving office have the freedom to use leftover money in their campaign accounts to ensure stronger access for their new employer to Congress or to glorify their legacy. This money was donated for a single purpose, electing a candidate, and should not be misappropriated. Public Citizen supports the common-sense reforms found in the ZOMBIE Act that require all politicians to close their campaign accounts if they are no longer an active candidate for federal office," said Lisa Gilbert, Executive Vice President, Public Citizen.
The ZOMBIE Act:
- Requires that politicians close their campaign accounts within six months if they do not file to run in the next federal election for that office, or the next election for another federal office. This would apply to both their personal campaign committees and leadership PACs;
- Requires politicians to close their campaign accounts before registering as a lobbyist or a foreign agent;
- Gives politicians the option to return unspent funds in their campaign account or leadership PACs to donors, the U.S. Treasury, or a charity that does not employ themselves or members of their family; and
- Prevents politicians from using unspent campaign funds to start their own organization.