On Friday, as 38 state legislative candidates – 30 in the House, 8 in the Senate – were elected without opposition, their respective campaign treasurers were faced with an interesting quandary: what to do with all of the money in the candidates’s bank accounts.
According to the most recent campaign finance reports covering the period ending March 31, the thirty-eight candidates running for the State House or Senate had approximately $3 million dollars in their campaign coffers at the close of qualifying.
Combined, the thirty candidates for the Florida House who won election without opposition had approximately $2.1 million cash-on-hand at the time of their winning. The eight candidates for the Florida Senate had approximately $882,000left between them.
These numbers are approximate because the candidates have certainly been raising and spending money since March 31. That said, it’s likely that the amount of money in the candidates’s bank accounts is greater than the $2.9 million figure as most legislative candidates only recently began their post-session fundraising effort. Conversely, most campaign spending does not occur until well after candidate qualifying.
It’s only logical that some of the candidates with the largest campaign accounts are going unchallenged. Speaker Designate Will Weatherford, never likely to face a serious challenge, has approximately $343,ooo left in his campaign account. Rep. Dana Young, one of her legislative class’s brightest stars has approximately $236,000 cash-on-hand.
The average amount left in these legislative accounts is $70,244 for State House candidates and $110,347 for State Senate candidates.
With all of that money in their campaign accounts, candidates have a variety of options for disposing of the money – and dispose of it they must. Unlike their congressional brethren, legislative candidates cannot carry over any money to the next campaign.
Once a candidate becomes unopposed, he or she may only expend funds from the campaign account to: 1. Purchase “thank you” advertising for up to 75 days after he or she became unopposed; 2. Pay for items which were obligated before he or she became unopposed; 3. Pay for expenditures necessary to close down the campaign office and to prepare final campaign reports; or 4. Dispose of surplus funds as provided in Section 106.141, F.S..
This statute stipulates that candidates can return the unspent money to their donors pro rata, donate the funds to charity, give the money to their political party, give the money to the state’s general fund and/or transfer up to $10,000 to their legislative office account.
This year, expect much of that money to end up with the political parties. According to Nancy Watkins, a campaign treasurer to dozens of Florida political candidates, “it’s a party for the parties.” That’s because, Watkins explained, in contrast to years past when the amount of money candidates could transfer to the parties was capped, there is now no limit on how much candidates can donate to their own parties.
This ability to transfer so much money from candidates to the parties could provide yet another fundraising advantage to the Florida GOP. Of the approximate $2.1 million left in unopposed State House candidates’s accounts, only about $189,000 belongs to Democratic candidates.
How the winning candidates divvy up their spoils remains to be seen, but at least know now that there are three million dollars burning holes in several politicians’s pockets.