Advertisement
  1. Investigations

A zombie campaign spent thousands on dinners and a trip to Disney, watchdog group says

The political action committee created by former U.S. Rep. Ander Crenshaw, R-Jacksonville, was supposed to help other candidates. Zombie Campaigns have come under increased scrutiny since a Times / WTSP investigation last year.
The Times/WTSP Zombie Campaigns investigation revealed former politicians and their staffers hoarding unspent campaign donations for years and using them to finance their lifestyles, advance new careers and pay family members.
Published Mar. 13

WASHINGTON — Another complaint about a former Florida congressman misusing campaign money has hit the desk of the Federal Election Commission.

Former U.S. Rep. Ander Crenshaw

The Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan watchdog group in Washington, filed a federal complaint Monday against a political action committee created by Jacksonville Republican Ander Crenshaw, saying the group spent Crenshaw’s leftover donations on Apple products, expensive dinners and a $5,000 trip to Disney World.

“It appears to be another example of a former member of Congress thinking they can use leftover campaign funds as personal slush funds,” said Brendan Fischer, the center’s director of federal reform.

The personal use of campaign funds violates federal law. But a January 2018 Tampa Bay Times/10News WTSP investigation found more than 100 former politicians running zombie campaigns that kept spending long after their political career had ended, often financing their lifestyles, advancing new careers and paying family members.

[ Read the Zombie Campaigns investigation: The campaign is over. The candidate might be dead. But the spending never stops. ]

The Campaign Legal Center has been closely tracking former lawmakers’ spending since the Times/WTSP investigation exposed the widespread abuse. The center has previously filed FEC complaints against some of the campaigns identified in the investigation.

The new complaint comes as the issue returns to the spotlight. Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill, H.R. 1, that included an amendment filed in response to the Zombie Campaigns investigation.

The legislation would restrict former candidates’ spending after they stop running for office. But Senate President Mitch McConnell has indicated the bill, which also includes other controversial ethics and voting reforms, would not be heard in his chamber.

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

Crenshaw’s spending followed a different pattern than the cases highlighted by the Times/WTSP, which focused only on candidates who spent money from their existing campaign accounts at least two years after leaving office.

Crenshaw represented Jacksonville in Congress from 2001 to 2017. A month later, he converted his candidate campaign fund, with $59,867 remaining, into a political action committee, which has more freedom on how it spends contributions.

The committee, “Ander PAC,” was organized to benefit numerous candidates according to a 2017 filing. However, it collected just a single $450 donation before it was shut down two years later. During that time, the committee spent tens of thousands of dollars on phones, meals and travel around the country.

Neither Crenshaw, nor Ander PAC’s treasurer, Benjamin Ottenhoff, returned requests for comment. Ottenhoff is the former chief financial officer of the Republican National Committee and a political consultant who works with dozens of D.C.’s biggest PACs, as well as Rick Scott’s 2018 Senate campaign.

The Campaign Legal Center says converting a campaign account into a political action committee doesn’t mean a candidate can personally profit off the funds.

“I don’t know if he thought he could get around the personal-use prohibition, but that’s not how the rules work,” Fischer said of Crenshaw, citing several previous rulings by the Federal Election Committee.

“Ander PAC was not raising funds or giving money to other candidates. It does not seem like there was any legitimate purpose of this PAC, other than personal use.”

Former U.S. Rep. John Linder

The center filed a similar second complaint Monday against a political action committee created by former U.S. Rep. John Linder, R-Ga.

That complaint alleges the committee set up by Linder, who held office from 1993 to 2011, spent tens of thousands of dollars on travel, Apple products and paying his children after leaving office.

In 2014, Linder converted his remaining $430,623 in individual campaign contributions into a multicandidate political committee. The center said the committee continued to pay Linder’s children $72,000 for fundraising consulting, even though it didn’t raise any funds and gave very little to other candidates.

“I don’t know if these former officeholders thought they could get around the personal-use ban by laundering their personal committee funds to a multicandidate committee,” Fischer said. “Their theory is flawed.”

Matthew John Linder, son of the former Georgia congressman and treasurer of his political committee, provided no comment when contacted by phone.

Complaints with the FEC are kept confidential until they are resolved.

The Times/WTSP investigation included disgraced former Congress members, like Florida’s Mark Foley, who was using his old campaign war chest to subsidize his Palm Beach social calendar a decade after he resigned from office. It even included some deceased members of Congress, such as late U.S. Rep. Mark Takai, D-Hawaii, whose former consultant Dylan Beesley paid himself tens of thousands of dollars from the campaign for political consulting after the congressman died. Beesley declined an interview request last month from a reporter at his home in Hawaii.

Following the Times/WTSP investigation, the FEC came to a rare bipartisan agreement to start scrutinizing dormant candidates’ filings for the first time. The agency said it would begin this year.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Scientology’s international spiritual headquarters in downtown Clearwater is anchored by the Flag Building, on left. An elevated walkway connects the building to the Fort Harrison Hotel, the church’s first purchase in the city in 1975. LUIS SANTANA  |  Times
    The mysterious deals could reshape downtown Clearwater.
  2. Clearwater City Council members react to Tampa Bay Times reporting showing companies tied to members of Scientology bought 101 acres of downtown commercial property in three years. Times  |   (2017)
    We showed the politicians a map of the land now owned by buyers tied to Scientology. Here’s what they said.
  3. Dr. James Quintessenza, left, will return as the head of the Johns Hopkins All Children's heart surgery program department. UNIVERSITY OF KENTUCKY HOSPITAL  |  Times
    The heart surgery program’s mortality rate spiked after the surgeon left, a 2018 Times investigation revealed.
  4. Kathryn Norris , 57, died in 2009 inside her Chevrolet Nova. It took authorities almost 16 months to find her. How could a woman go missing inside her own home? Florida Today
    Kathryn Norris disappeared long before she died.
  5. North Tampa Behavioral Health in Wesley Chapel JOHN PENDYGRAFT   |  Times
    The calls for action follow a Tampa Bay Times report on problems inside North Tampa Behavioral Health
  6. Richard Zeitlin's clients include a PAC called the Children's Leukemia Support Network. About 86 percent of the money raised by the leukemia network went to Zeitlin’s companies. Facebook
    Las Vegas police also ‘looking into’ officer following Center for Public Integrity investigation.
  7. Michael Jenkins spent seven days at North Tampa Behavioral Health last July. Since then, he says his three children have been afraid he’ll leave and not come home. JOHN PENDYGRAFT   |   Times
    The patients have no choice, and the hospital is making millions.
  8. The Times’ reporting focused on how the hospital misuses Florida’s Baker Act.
  9. Seven-year-old Sriyam Sriadibhatla, who suffers from B acute lymphoblastic leukemia, waits for chemotherapy at Palm Beach Children's Hospital in West Palm Beach. Susan Stocker
    A look inside his machine, which turns charitable and political contributions into paydays.
  10. State regulators plan to fine Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg a total of more than $800,000. SCOTT KEELER  |  Times
    The planned $800,000 penalty is the latest fallout from problems in the hospital’s heart surgery department.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement