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Interpretative Opinion 01-10: Use of Campaign and Citizen-Service Funds

September 13, 2001

Ms. Diane Simmons Williams
2475 Virginia Avenue, NW
Washington, DC  20037

Re: Use of Campaign and Citizen-Service Funds

Dear Ms. Williams:

This responds to your request for an opinion concerning the appropriate means by which to dispose of an outstanding former campaign debt of the Mayor Williams 98 Committee (Committee).  Specifically, you state that an expenditure was authorized by a campaign worker of the Committee, and that sanctioned procedures were not followed.  You further state that subsequent invoices associated with the expenditure were mailed to the worker, and were apparently ignored.  Moreover, you state that the Committee officially terminated in 1999.  Consequently, you request guidance concerning the alternatives available to satisfy this debt.

DC Code § 1-1416(b)(11) requires “a continuous reporting of its (the Committee’s) debts and obligations after the election at such periods as the Director may require until such debts and obligations are extinguished . . .” (emphasis added).

3 DCMR § 3016.4 states in pertinent part, “[a]ny committee, program or fund may terminate its reporting requirements by filing a final R&E Report; Provided, that the committee, program or fund meets the following requirements:  (a) ceased to receive contributions or make expenditures; (b) extinguished all debts and obligations; (c) is not involved in any enforcement, audit or litigation action with the Office; and disbursed all surplus funds in accordance with § 3015”.

DC Code § 1-1472(a)(2) states in pertinent part, “any surplus, residual, or unexpended campaign funds received by or on behalf of an individual who seeks . . . election to office shall be contributed to a political party for political purposes, used to retire debts of his or her political committee which received such funds, or returned to the donors as follows: in the case of an individual elected to office, within 6 months following such election . . .”.

DC Code § 1-1472(b) states in pertinent part, “an individual elected to an office under this chapter authorized to establish a program of constituent services under § 1-1443 shall be authorized to transfer any surplus, residue, or unexpended campaign funds to his or her program of constituent services . . .”.

3 DCMR § 3013.2(e) states, “limitations on the use of campaign funds shall include the following:  payment or reimbursement for judgments or settlements, unless litigation arises directly out of a candidate’s or principal campaign committee’s campaign activities”.

As you are aware, the Office of Campaign Finance directed a request to you for further information concerning the alleged debt by letter dated June 28, 2001.  On July 5, 2001, the Office received a letter from your attorney, who stated the disputed claim was in the amount of $8,293.69, and that the matter first came to the attention of the former campaign in the summer of 2000.  It was further stated that litigation, which precipitated in the State of Virginia, was subsequently dismissed.  However, the complainant intends to re-file the claim in the District of Columbia.

The District of Columbia campaign finance laws and regulations do not prohibit the settlement of a claim directly related to a legitimate debt of a former campaign from the treasury of that former campaign.  However, since the Mayor Williams 98 Committee terminated in 1999, and transferred its surplus funds to the Mayor Williams Constituent Service Fund, there are no remaining funds to satisfy the debt from this source.

The funds in the Mayor’s current re-election treasury may not be used to pay the outstanding debt of the former campaign as they were contributed to support the reelection of the Mayor, and not to retire outstanding debt of the Mayor’s former campaign.

Notwithstanding, there may be an exception to the use of citizen-service funds for this purpose, where a transfer-in occurs from surplus funds of the former campaign of an elected official, and where an expense of the former campaign is the subject of litigation.  However, without more dispositive information concerning this matter, we are unable to determine whether a portion of the surplus funds transferred from the Committee to the Mayor’s citizen-service fund may be appropriately used for this purpose.  Therefore, we enclose a copy of our June 28th letter, and request more detailed responses to it as soon as possible.