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Interpretative Opinion 12-07: Use of Campaign and Citizen-Service Funds

November 30, 2012

The Honorable Phil Mendelson
Mendelson For Chairman
6808 6th Street, NW
Washington, D.C. 20012

Dear Mr. Mendelson:

This is in response to your request for an Interpretative Opinion, which was received October 31, 2012, regarding whether a now–defunct campaign committee must be re-established to pay unpaid legal fees from that committee or whether the fees may be paid by your current campaign committee. You proposed that your current committee is a legitimate vehicle by which to pay/declare these legal fees.
DC Official Code §1-1163.09( c)(10) requires “a continuous reporting of its (the Committee’s) debts and obligations after the election when the Director of Campaign Finance may require until such debts and obligations are extinguished…”
Title 3 of the District of Columbia Municipal Regulations (3DCMR) §3011.1 states that “Campaign funds shall be used solely for the purpose of financing, directly or indirectly, the election campaign of a candidate.”
3DCMR § 3011.2 states that “Limitations on the use of campaign funds shall include the following:
(a) Payment or reimbursement for candidate or staff of a campaign committee for travel expenses and necessary accommodations, except when directly related to campaign purpose;
(b) Payment or reimbursement for the cost of professional services unless those services are directly related to a campaign purpose;
(c) Payment for medical expenses of a candidate; provided , that campaign funds may be used to pay employer costs of health care benefits for employees of a principal campaign committee;
(d) Payment or reimbursement for fines and penalties, unless litigation arises directly out of a candidate’s or principal campaign committee’s campaign activities;
(e) Payment or reimbursement for judgments or settlements, unless litigation or agency administrative action arises directly out of the campaign activities of a candidate or principal campaign committee;
(f) Attorney fees, unless legal expenses arise directly out of a candidate’s or principal campaign committee’s campaign activities;
(g) Payment or reimbursement for the purchase or lease of personal property, unless the legal title resides in, or the lease is, the principal campaign committee, and the use of the property is directly related to a campaign purpose;
(h) Clothing, except for specialty clothing which is not suitable for everyday use, including, but not limited to, formal wear, if the attire is used in the campaign and is directly related to a campaign purpose;
(i) The purchase or lease of a vehicle, unless the title or lease to the vehicle is held by the campaign committee and not the candidate, and the use of the vehicle is directly related to a campaign purpose; and
(j) Compensation to a candidate for the performance of campaign activities, except for reimbursement of out of pocket expenses incurred for campaign purposes;”
OCF regulations at 3DCMR§ 3011.2 enumerate permissible uses of campaign funds, which do not include the purpose for which you propose to use these funds. Further, this regulation specifically states that “[w]ith the exception of expenditures made to retire debt or wind down the campaign operation, campaign funds shall not be expended following the election or defeat of a candidate for office, or after a candidate notifies the Office of Campaign Finance of the intent to withdraw the candidacy for the purpose of financing, directly or indirectly, the election campaign of a candidate.”
Based upon the information you have provided, there does not appear be any provision in the regulations that would authorize the use of funds from a current campaign committee to retire a debt from a prior campaign committee.
However, the “Financial Disclosure and Ethics Reform Clarification Amendment Act of 2012, Section 310a” states in pertinent part that “within the limitations specified in this act, any surplus, residual, or unexpended campaign funds received by or on behalf of an individual who seeks nomination for election, or election to office, shall be:
“(3) Transferred to a political committee, a charitable organization in accordance with D.C. Official Code § 47-1803.03(a)(8), or in the case of an elected official, an established constituent services fund”
Therefore, in view of the fact that transfers of surplus campaign funds from both your 2006 and 2010 at-large re-election campaigns were made to your constituent services program, it does not appear that there are any prohibitions on using funds from your constituent services program to cover legal expenses that have recently arisen from those campaigns. Any expenditures of constituent services fund for this purpose must be properly documented and reported to the Office of Campaign Finance as required.
The foregoing is an Interpretative Opinion of the Director of the Office of Campaign Finance. Pursuant to D.C. Official Code § 1-1163.06, you are entitled to request an Advisory Opinion from the Board of Elections regarding this transaction or activity.
Should you have any further questions, please contact William O. SanFord, the General Counsel for the Office of Campaign Finance at (202) 671-0550.