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U.S. House votes to crack down on ‘zombie campaigns’ following Times / 10News WTSP investigation

The measure was included in a sweeping new voting rights and campaign finance package championed by Democrats
In their political afterlife, former politicians and their staffers are hoarding unspent campaign donations for years and using them to finance their lifestyles, advance new careers and pay family members, an investigation by the Tampa Bay Times, 10News WTSP and TEGNA-owned TV stations found.
Published Mar. 8
Updated Mar. 8

The U.S. House of Representatives voted Friday to target so-called zombie campaigns, political committees kept open by former politicians to finance their lifestyles and pay family members long after they leave office.

The measure was included in a sweeping new voting rights and campaign finance package, called For the People Act or H.R. 1, that Democrats made their top priority after taking control of the House. The entire bill passed the House on a party-line vote Friday 234 to 193.

Rep. Kathy Castor, a Tampa Democrat, and Rep. Gus Bilirakis, a Palm Harbor Republican, worked together to pass an amendment to H.R. 1 earlier this week that would close a loophole allowing ex-lawmakers to sit on unspent campaign donations for years.

READ THE ZOMBIE CAMPAIGNS INVESTIGATION: The campaign is over. The candidate might be dead. But the spending never stops.

The amendment comes after a Tampa Bay Times / 10News WTSP investigation that turned up about 100 so-called zombie campaigns kept open by former politicians. These leftover donations were used on airline tickets, club memberships, a limo trip, cell phones, parking and new computers.

Twenty former lawmakers were still spending leftover donations more than a decade after they left office, the investigation found. Castor earlier this week called the practice a “form of corruption.”

“I am glad that the Democratic majority is tackling this form of corruption and others we have seen grow unchecked for several years under Republican control of Congress,” Castor said after the vote.

Though he supported the amendment to crack down on Zombie campaigns, Bilirakis ultimately joined Republicans in voting against the entire package.

RELATED: Castor, Bilirakis hope to make crackdown on ‘zombie campaigns’ part of Democrats’ campaign finance reform

In addition to tackling zombie campaigns, H.R. 1 would also provide public financing of campaigns, restore the voting rights act, support a constitutional amendment to end the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, require dark money organizations to disclose their donors, mandates the president and vice president to release 10 years of tax returns, makes Election Day a federal holiday and creates national automatic voter registration.

Democrats have called it the most significant legislation to address corruption and voting rights in decades, and includes many of the tenants they ran on last year during their successful campaign to recapture the House of the Representatives.

“This is in our view a historic day, a pivotal day, a day that will make a difference as we go forward,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Friday morning before the vote.

However, the bill faces an upward climb in the U.S. Senate, where Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has spent much of the last few weeks attacking the legislation on the Senate floor. He said he won’t allow even a vote on it.

Republicans are especially critical of the measure to publicly finance elections, which they’ve called a taxpayer handout to politicians. Democrats say it’s a measure to get corporate money out of elections.

McConnell said curbing spending by businesses and other groups during elections amounts to “stunningly vague, broad, and potentially unconstitutional restrictions on the abilities of all kinds of advocacy groups -- on all sides of the political spectrum -- from exercising their constitutional right to speak out.”

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