Breaking News

What will Joe Straus do with his $10 million in unspent campaign funds?


By Jim Malewitz and Alana Rocha

A maelstrom of questions swirled in the Texas Capitol Wednesday when House Speaker Joe Straus announced he would not seek re-election to his House seat. 

Among them: What will he do with his enormous war chest?

Straus, a powerful moderate Republican who has served as speaker for five terms, reported nearly $10 million in unspent campaign cash through June, according to a filing with the Texas Ethics Commission.

On Wednesday, he told The Texas Tribune he would spread the wealth to Republicans who are running in 2018.

“I’m going to aggressively work in the ’18 cycle. I have a commitment to other Republicans who I think are responsible and have done a good job and deserve to be re-elected," he said in an interview. "I’ll aggressively be involved in races, as I have in the past."

State ethics laws grant elected officials wide latitude on how they use their political contributions while in office — as long as purchases somehow relate to campaigning or state businesses and aren’t for “personal use," an often ambiguous term.

Straus has 14 months left in his term, meaning he could also keep spending campaign cash on items in his official capacity, such as on office supplies, staff gatherings, housing in Austin and transportation to and from meetings or conferences. Former Texas elected officials often continue to use the funds on their way out of office.

If Straus chooses to run for another state office — and he did not rule out that option Wednesday — he could also roll over funds into that effort. If he were to choose to run for Congress, he would not be able to easily use his current campaign account toward that effort, according to the Federal Election Commission.

Officials who have completely stopped campaigning must dispose of their campaign funds within six years, and how they have done so varies.

When a candidate leaves office, what’s permissible narrows — at least on concrete purchases, ethics experts say. For instance, an official can’t keep office furniture or other equipment after retiring. Nor can they keep the benefits of a country club membership, even if they purchased it with campaign funds before leaving office.

Many who completely cease campaigning donate their balances to charities or other political campaigns.

Last year, Texas Comptroller Susan Combs, who left office in early 2015, tapped her roughly $5 million in campaign leftovers to start a nonprofit geared at empowering women and donate to a political group called Texans for Positive Economic Policy. She also paid her now-dissolved political action committee's staffers and federal taxes, according to her July Texas Ethics Commission filing.

And former Republican Rep. John Otto, who retired ahead of the 2017 legislative session, reported donating thousands of dollars in campaign cash to an assortment of charities and political campaigns. He still had nearly $396,000 on hand through June, according to his latest filing.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune 

No comments