NOTED WITH INTEREST

Motivated Political Donors Don't Let Death Stop Them

Monday, October 31, 2005

You can't take it with you -- but you can keep giving it away: Political donors are reaching from beyond the grave to support candidates and parties, setting up their estates to continue giving campaign money long after they die.

Spooky, but legal.

Presidential and congressional candidates and political parties have collected more than $1.3 million from at least 100 deceased donors since 1991, according to the Halloween-themed "From Coffins to Coffers" report by the Center for Public Integrity in Washington.

Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), former president Bill Clinton and Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) have been among their beneficiaries.

Political parties are the biggest recipients.

National Democratic Party committees have received at least $644,000, while Republican Party committees have taken in about $588,000, the nonpartisan watchdog group's review of campaign finance reports found.

The center's study found that in the 2000 election cycle, the dearly departed donated $245,000 overall. Two years later, a groundswell of activity in the deceased demographic raised that total to nearly $680,0000 -- the last time donors were allowed to give unlimited sums to national party committees.

Following the changes in campaign finance law, deceased contributors face the same limits as the living: $2,100 per election to a federal candidate and $26,700 a year to a national party committee.

In the 2004 election, posthumous donations totaled about $73,000.

Many recipients identified the donors' occupation as "deceased" on reports to the Federal Election Commission or said the contributions came from a person's estate.

FEC spokesman George Smaragdis told the center that people can set up "testamentary bequests" to support political parties and specific candidates.

They can also set aside money for federal political action committees. But, because of the new law, estates, like living individuals, have been limited to donations of $5,000 to a PAC per calendar year.

Federal law bans donations by noncitizens -- dead or alive.

-- Dana Milbank


© 2005 The Washington Post Company