Wall Street Journal: Stormy Weather for Campaign-Finance Laws
By Bradley A. Smith
Not everything that might benefit a candidate is a campaign expense.
Campaign-finance law aims to prevent corruption. For this reason, the FEC has a longstanding ban on “personal use” of campaign funds. Such use would give campaign contributions a material value beyond helping to elect the candidate-the essence of a bribe.
FEC regulations explain that the campaign cannot pay expenses that would exist “irrespective” of the campaign, even if it might help win election. At the same time, obligations that would not exist “but for” the campaign must be paid from campaign funds.
If paying hush money is a campaign expense, a candidate would be required to make that payment with campaign funds. How ironic, given that using campaign funds as hush money was one of the articles of impeachment in the Watergate scandal, which gave rise to modern campaign-finance law.
When the FEC adopted these regulations, it specifically rejected a rule under which campaign contributions could fund an expenditure “related to” a candidacy. The FEC was concerned that would make it too easy for candidates to use campaign funds for personal benefit.