U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet believes ZOMBIEs are a problem.
That is why he has introduced the Zeroing Out Money for Buying Influence after Elections (ZOMBIE) Act to address what happens with campaign money for federal candidates when they leave office.
“It makes no sense for former politicians to have millions in the bank from their old campaigns, especially after they’ve registered to become a lobbyist or foreign agent,” Bennet said. “These zombie accounts help fuel the pay-to-play culture in Washington that is destroying the American people’s faith in our government.”
Bennet further explained that former elected officials can use the “zombie” funds to steer donations to former colleagues. If the individual is now a lobbyist, such donations “can contribute to a corrupt ‘pay-to-play’ system of politics,” said Paul S. Ryan, vice president for policy and litigation at Common Cause.
The ZOMBIE Act requires candidates to close campaign accounts within six months of not filing to run for reelection or another federal office. People would also need to close their personal or leadership committees before registering as a lobbyist or foreign agent. Candidates may divest their unspent money to donors, the U.S. Treasury or a charity. The candidate or their family may not have personal ties to the recipient charity, however.
While campaign funds are intended to support runs for office and duties of the officeholder, a 2019 report from the Campaign Legal Center documented several instances where former members of Congress — including some who had been out of office for more than a decade — continued to use campaign donations to funnel money to members who are the targets of lobbying efforts.
Former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., for example, had $1.5 million saved when he retired. He gave $1,000 to a U.S. senator whom his company subsequently lobbied on behalf of their client, Saudi Arabia.
“As former members get farther and farther from their time in public office, the universe of plausible officeholder-related expenses shrinks ever smaller, so keeping campaigns open for years can invite abuse,” the report concluded.