MINOT, N.D. -- According to Heidi Heitkamp's now-defunct Senate campaign's most recent filing with the FEC, the one-time senator is still sitting on a more than $3.6 million fortune.
That's down nearly $1 million from the last report in January.
It's not unusual for political candidates to have money left over after a losing campaign.
In 2018, Heitkamp's campaign spending was more than quadruple that of Republican challenger (and current senator) Kevin Cramer. Yet, she still managed to end the cycle with roughly $6.5 million in cash on hand.
Believe it or not, it does take more than just a massive pile of cash to win elections.
Since then, Heitkamp has spent her leftover money in ways typical for former politicians, using it to pay for things like booze and luxury dining and travel. Even spa treatments.
Heitkamp also made some money for her campaign by selling her mailing lists, which is probably why many of you have probably started getting completely unsolicited emails from Democratic candidates in other parts of the country.
But Heitkamp has also been using her campaign's cash in unusual ways that might even be illegal if the deeply compromised Federal Election Commission were capable of ruling on it.
Since leaving office, Heitkamp co-founded (along with Joe Donnelly, another Democrat who lost a Senate seat in 2018) a super PAC called the One Country Fund.
The only reported contribution to that PAC so far is a $500,000 donation from the Heitkamp campaign fund.
How is that money being used?
Settling a personal score for Heitkamp is one way.
In 2018, Iowa Sen. Jon Ernst, a Republican, campaigned for Cramer in North Dakota and described Heitkamp's vote against confirming Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh "reprehensible."
In 2020, Heitkamp's One Country Fund has put $1 million behind an ad against Ernst's re-election bid.
Another is in making big-money payments to Heitkamp's long-time political adviser and personal friend Tessa Gould.
Back in January, I reported that, for a year after the end of the 2018 campaign cycle, Heitkamp paid Gould a total of $70,000 under the vague justification of "consulting" work. This, despite Gould having worked at Forbes Tate Partners, a Washington, D.C., lobbying firm, since March 2019.
Heitkamp's campaign hasn't made any more direct payments to Gould since that report, per the FEC disclosures, but, low and behold, suddenly Gould is on the payroll at the One Country Fund. According to a database maintained by the Center for Responsive Politics, Gould is the top vendor for the super PAC, having received $30,000 so far in 2020.
I guess Heitkamp was hoping nobody would notice?
Interestingly, per that same data, Gould also received over $25,000 from the Heitkamp-affiliated Dakota Prairie PAC in 2019.
Is it legal for a politician to use leftover cash from a defunct campaign to fund new political ventures and make payouts to cronies?
That's a good question.
"The commission approved an advisory opinion request in 2012 allowing a former candidate to contribute leftover money to a super PAC, but the request made a point of saying the candidate wouldn't control how the money was spent," Bloomberg reported recently. "Last year, the FEC deadlocked over an advisory request from former congressman and HHS Secretary Tom Price, a Georgia Republican, asking to shift $1.7 million in leftover campaign cash to a nonprofit intended to promote his policy ideas on health care."
Heitkamp's people claim they're following the law, but they also haven't requested any sort of guidance from the FEC. And the FEC isn't likely to take any action. As Bloomberg reports: "The FEC has been without a quorum of commissioners for most of the past year and is currently unable to vote on advisory opinions or enforcement complaints."
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Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.