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FEC revises rules for candidates drawing salaries from campaigns

Top allowable pay reduced, but candidates may be able to draw funds sooner

Rep. Eric Sorensen, D-Ill., paid himself nearly $18,000 when he was running for the House seat he won in 2022.
Rep. Eric Sorensen, D-Ill., paid himself nearly $18,000 when he was running for the House seat he won in 2022. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Corrected Dec. 19 | Advocates for working-class candidates are applauding a new Federal Election Commission rule that makes it easier for those running for Congress to draw salaries from their campaign accounts.

The rule, approved Thursday by a bipartisan vote of 5-1, more accurately reflects the demands of running for federal office, which typically require full-time campaigning for a year or more leading up to the election, said Shana M. Broussard, a Democratic member of the FEC.

“The change … would help ordinary working-class Americans to represent their communities by running for federal office,” said Broussard, who led the drive for the rule change.

It was requested by Nabilah Islam Parkes, a Democrat from Georgia who ran for Congress in 2020. She gave up a full-time job and benefits to run for an open seat and lost the Democratic primary to Carolyn Bourdeaux, who went on to win that November.

Islam Parkes, who is now a Georgia state senator, said she filed the petition with the FEC “to break down financial barriers that prevent many working Americans from running for office.”

On Thursday, she cheered the rule, saying it will “level the playing field” for candidates of moderate means. 

Damaged credit score

Democratic Florida Rep. Maxwell Alejandro Frost was among those speaking in favor of a proposed rule change last year. He told the FEC in March that during the 18 months he was running for Congress, he ran up debt that resulted in “a very damaged credit score that I still have and that I’m still working on.” 

Under current rules, candidates for House and Senate are entitled to pay themselves a salary of up to $174,000 annually, the rate of pay for the office they’re seeking. But they can’t collect more than they were making in the year prior to their run for office, which means unemployed people or stay-at-home caregivers are not entitled to a salary. 

Additionally, they are not permitted to begin collecting a salary until the filing deadline in their state, which vary.

Freshman House members who reported paying themselves a salary as candidates in the 2022 election cycle include Eric Sorensen of Illinois, who paid himself nearly $18,000 from a campaign that spent $3.1 million; Frost, whose campaign paid him nearly $10,000 while spending $2.7 million; and Mary Peltola of Alaska, who drew $4,600 from a campaign that spent $7.1 million overall. All three are Democrats.

The new rule, which takes effect on March 1, would allow nonincumbents running for office to use campaign funds to pay themselves up to 50 percent of a House member or senator’s salary or the candidate’s average annual income over the previous five years. 

It also would allow candidates to qualify for payments as soon as they file with the FEC, rather than rely on the varying state filing deadlines.

“This regulation is not to my mind perfect but it is an enormous improvement on the status quo,’’ said Allen Dickerson, a Republican member of the commission. 

Daniel I. Weiner, director of the Elections and Government Program at the Brennan Center for Justice and a former FEC staffer, said on X, formerly Twitter, that the “new rules won’t fully eliminate the existing unfairness but they at least give candidates more flexibility.”

Under the rule, any outside income a candidate receives would be deducted from their salary, because their campaign pay is meant to replace lost income, not supplement it. 

James E. “Trey” Trainor III, a Republican commissioner who cast the lone vote against the new rule, said the panel lacked the authority to authorize such payments.

“I’m not unsympathetic to the demands of running for elective office,’’ he said. “But at the end of the day my job is to administer the statute within the bounds of the Constitution and I am unpersuaded that this rule is within our authority.”

Ryan Kelly and Herb Jackson contributed to this report.

The result of the 2020 election involving Nabilah Islam Parkes and Carolyn Bourdeaux is corrected in this report.

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