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Union activist running against Fischer in Nebraska to draw campaign salary

Politics ‘shouldn’t only be for the rich,’ independent challenger Dan Osborn says

Independent Senate candidate Dan Osborn plans to pay himself a salary from his campaign.
Independent Senate candidate Dan Osborn plans to pay himself a salary from his campaign. (Campaign video screenshot/Osborn for Senate)

Independent Dan Osborn of Nebraska is among the first Senate candidates to draw a salary from his campaign since the Federal Election Commission made it easier for those running for office to use donor money to pay themselves. 

Osborn took a leave of absence from his job as a steamfitter and plans to draw $7,100 per month from his campaign. The figure was chosen to replace his lost salary, which is about $48,000, plus health insurance for him and his family.

Osborn said he’s been working 40, 50 and even 90 hours per week while also campaigning. “I’ve learned that it’s almost impossible to run for Senate as a regular person who needs to pay the bills and put food on the table,” he said in a statement. “That’s why the Senate has become a country club full of millionaires, and it’s why less than 2 percent of our politicians come from the working class.”

Osborn is a labor activist who helped lead the strike at a Kellogg’s cereal plant in Omaha in 2021. He is waging a long-shot bid to unseat Republican Sen. Deb Fischer in ruby-red Nebraska.

He isn’t the only candidate to draw campaign payments since the FEC’s new rule took effect in March.

Republican Aliscia Andrews, a Marine veteran and one of 16 candidates hoping to succeed retiring Democratic Rep. Jennifer Wexton in Northern Virginia, collected $9,000 from her campaign on March 19, according to filings with the FEC.

Two candidates running for the open seat in Michigan’s 8th District — Democrat Dan Moilanen and Republican Anthony Hudson — each reported collecting payments from their campaigns.

When the FEC approved the new rules last year by a bipartisan 5-1 vote, Democratic Commissioner Shana M. Broussard said the change more accurately reflects the demands of running for the House and Senate, which typically require full-time campaigning for a year or more leading up to the election.

Candidates for Congress were previously entitled to pay themselves a salary of up to $174,000 annually, the rate of pay for the office they’re seeking. But they couldn’t collect more than they were making in the year prior to their run for office, which meant unemployed people or stay-at-home caregivers were not entitled to a campaign salary. 

Additionally, they were not permitted to begin collecting a salary until the filing deadline in their state, which meant candidates getting an early start were ineligible. 

Under the new rule, nonincumbents running for office can 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. Any outside income a candidate receives will be deducted from their salary because their campaign pay is meant to replace lost income, not supplement it. 

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

Osborn, whose most recent disclosure to the FEC showed him raising $812,000 through April 24, said taking a leave of absence and collecting a salary from his campaign is the only way a working-class candidate could participate in politics.

“Politics shouldn’t only be for the rich,” he said.

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