A candidate who's brief on funds deserve to take advantage of some of the provisions in commonwealth election law.

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Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez addresses supporters at a fundraiser in Los Angeles ~ above Aug. 2.Jae C. Hong / AP file
This story was originally published by The facility for windy Integrity, a nonprofit, nonpartisan investigative news organization in Washington, D.C.

Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, 29, won she U.S. Residence race in brand-new York. However on her road to coming to be a heroine the progressives and also media darling, she had actually to dip right into her savings, leaving she with much less than $7,000 stashed away. She 2017 income: much less than $27,000.

Democrat Abby Finkenauer, 29, won her U.S. Residence race in Iowa, proceeding on her quick track up the political ladder after securing a state house seat at age 25. She prevailed while paying off about $20,000 precious of blame after attending Drake university in Des Moines. Her 2017 revenue was $25,000.

These women space the exception to the rule: most members that Congress are rich.


But countless find the troubling. If candidates by and huge need to be wealthy to run, is that good for democracy?

What if you want to operation for Congress but are broke, or young and also saddled with countless dollars of student loans? You"re start a realm where the campaign with the many money generally wins. Being well-off also way you likely understand other rich human being who deserve to write huge checks to her campaign. And no publicly financing regime exists — like on the presidential level and also in some claims — to aid congressional political prospects with large brains and full understanding … yet empty wallets.

Click below to check out the center for publicly Integrity"s version of this story

Here are several means pauper politicos have the right to subsist and keep us solvent when campaigning becomes their permanent gig:

Pay yourself a wage

If you"re not an incumbent commonwealth lawmaker, you"re enabled to take a value from the project funds you raise.


The commonwealth Election Commission passed this measure earlier in 2002 to help "candidates the modest means too regularly have been crowded the end of running for office." The ascendancy "may permit people choose blue-collar workers, school teachers and others who don"t do six-figure wages to run for office," Republican FEC Commissioner Michael Toner claimed at the time.

How much can you pay yourself? Whichever is much less money: Your income from the previous year — for this reason Finkenauer could pay it s her $25,000 — or the salary of the position you"re to run for, i m sorry is $174,000 because that a rank-and-file member that the U.S. Home or U.S. Senate.


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Most candidates don"t take advantage of this provision. However a facility for publicly Integrity evaluation of federal campaign finance disclosures figured out at least 22 candidates running in the 2017-2018 choice cycle that together paid themselves around $155,000 from campaign funds. None of the candidates the center for windy Integrity established this cycle appeared to collection a $174,000 salary.

Ocasio-Cortez"s campaign paid she $6,199.42 over the last few months the the campaign, if Finkenauer did not report any type of salary from her campaign. Democratic musician Robert Quist, that ran and lost versus Greg Gianforte for Montana"s U.S. Residence seat in a 2017 special election, paid himself a value totaling $9,000.

Work … and run

Laura Lombard, 34, maintained her project as the chief executive officer the ImEpik LLC, an online training company, when she unsuccessfully ran because that Congress together a Democrat in Kansas" fourth District, both during a 2017 distinct election and a 2018 democratic primary ahead of November"s election.

Lombard ran her agency from she home throughout morning hours, beginning at 6 a.m. She"d normally pivot come congressional campaign work during the afternoons and fundraise, canvass and also attend events into the evening. Federal regulations don"t generally prevent unelected conference candidates indigenous holding jobs.

Some folks are saying ns won for “demographic” reasons.1st the all, that’s false. Us won w/voters of every kinds.2nd, here’s my first pair of project shoes. Ns knocked doors until rainwater came with my soles.Respect the hustle. We won bc us out-worked the competition. Period. Pic.twitter.com/RbpQMYTiWY

— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (

"I don"t think a lot of of human being realized that i was doing both," Lombard said. "I tried to do it look choose I was completely campaigning, and also to my job, I had to show them it had actually my full attention. It definitely took a physical and financial toll on me."

In all, Lombard reported that she personally offered or loaned her congressional campaign committee about $10,000, which "hurts," she said.

"I would certainly rather have not have done that," she said. "But is the recoverable? Yeah. I have my salary."

Hire household members

You may put a family members member on your congressional project payroll — i m sorry would help boost your household income — as lengthy as you"re paying fair sector value for the services they"re providing.

Hiring relatives may make sense, financially and also otherwise: You to trust them; they recognize you and also the neighborhood well.

But troubles loom.

Hiring your spouse as a consultant or record keeper might reek the nepotism, i beg your pardon an opponent could use versus you.

Rep. Duncan Hunte speak to the media prior to a painting he found offensive and removed is rehung ~ above the U.S. Capitol wall surfaces on Jan. 10, 2017 .Joe Raedle / Getty pictures file

Employing a relative additionally could generate awkwardness if points go sour. Exhibition A: California Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter, that was indicted in August because that allegedly misusing more than $250,000 of project funds. In news reports, Hunter showed up to reference his wife, Margaret (who was also indicted), for the financial mess. "She was also the campaign manager, so every little thing she go that"ll it is in looked at too, I"m sure," Hunter said.

Paying relatives to job-related on a congressional campaign occurs come some level each election cycle. A USA now investigation discovered that 32 members the Congress together paid relatives at least $2 million during the 2012 choice cycle. A 2017 evaluation by The Hill identified at the very least 13 legislator with family members members payment as project staffers.

Know what"s fair game

The straightforward rule that spending: "Using project funds for personal use is prohibited."

So what is considered "personal use?" Basically, don"t use campaign funds for prices that would have actually existed even if friend weren"t running for Congress. Think mortgage, rent, utility bills — also if you"re to run your project operation from her living room.

Abby Finkenauer celebrates after she to win the choice for Iowa's 1st Congressional ar on Nov. 6.Elieen Meslar / AP file

"It"s vital to emphasize the reason for these limitations: If a candidate is making use of contributions just to subsidize their lifestyle, the money poses a significant risk for corruption," claimed Brendan Fischer, manager of commonwealth reform in ~ the nonpartisan project Legal Center. "It"s a necessary check on the influence."

There are, however, some curious exceptions, according to federal election rules:

If a candidate conducts a campaign activity, such together a fundraiser, at a sporting event, concert or a theater show, project funds have the right to pay for the ticket. Yet you far better talk politics: The FEC alerts that money can"t be provided for "a recreation outing in ~ which the conversation occasionally focuses on the project or official functions."

There have been countless FEC complaints managing this issue, however most room dismissed "on the theory that belong to this clubs enables members to interact with their constituents," claimed Brett Kappel, a partner at Akerman LLP. One odd example? Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla., paid $805 for membership dues to the invite-only Shriner-linked imperial Order of Jesters, whose function is "spreading the gospel of mirth, merriment and also cheerfulness." Bilirakis suggested the group "is a Masonic fraternity that plainly qualifies as a civic or community organization." The FEC failed to discover he violated the law and closed the file.

Get campaign-subsidized child care

For the first six month of Shirley"s congressional campaign, she do fundraising calls native her house as she nursed her then-one-year-old kid Nicholas. Three-year-old daughter Mila would certainly play through her hair.

Shirley — formerly a non-profit consultant who functioned from home and also took care of her kids — said her household relied on her husband"s wage from engineering services firm WSP USA during her campaign. His salary barely covered their bills and also Shirley"s $1,000-a-month student loan payment.

Then, in January, soon after she began campaigning, her son tripped on a toy and broke his leg, which required a full body cast. The hospital receipt piled up.

"I yes, really wasn"t sure just how I to be going to do it financially," Shirley said.

So Shirley petitioned the FEC to enable her come use project funds to hire a part-time babysitter so she might go campaign.

In May, the FEC unanimously authorized Shirley"s request.

This was the an initial time the FEC offered such refer permission come a woman candidate: In 1996, the commission enabled Republican Rep. Jim McCrery native Louisiana to rental a babysitter, as he said that it was crucial that his wife — his infant son"s main caretaker — attend details campaign events with him. The FEC claimed yes, "because the child treatment expenses will be incurred only as a direct result of campaign activity and would certainly not otherwise exist."

It"s an important distinction: If a candidate already paid for a babysitter before running for office, that certain campaign cost wouldn"t fly.

Shirley report spending $3,632 for child care services in her FEC filings, among nine candidates Roll contact identified who reported taking benefit of the FEC"s child treatment decision this cycle.

Use volunteer to balance out expenses

Certain actions v intrinsic value can be thought about a "volunteer activity" as opposed to a project contribution, which are capped in ~ $2,700 per election.

If, for example, you have a well-connected friend willing to hold a campaign fundraiser at his or she home, that friend may likewise spend as much as $1,000 ~ above food, drinks and invitations prior to it need to be reported to the FEC. That"s a $1,000 invoice (plus the value of the venue) your project doesn"t need to foot.

Your political backers may also send emails in assistance of you, or create and host a website that sings your praises, without having actually to financially account because that such activity. The FEC is even considering whether a supporter could mine bitcoin and also donate the spoils to your campaign, call the process a volunteer expense.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez poses through a project worker in monarchs on Nov. 5.Andrew Kelly / Reuters file

Every little helps for a brand-new candidate that lacks the political networks and infrastructure that most sitting legislator possess.

"There"s a lot of ground that requirements to be consisted of by first-time candidates," stated Will Levitt, the co-founder the Square One Politics, which intends to breakdown barriers come entry for brand-new Democratic candidates. "It"s crucial to make sure they"re aware of the financial rules and also what some of their biggest roadblocks might be."

Lombard, the candidate native Kansas, might again run for Congress. She approximates she spent 4 hours a work making fundraising calls, and also experts told her each contact should last a minute if she"s doing the job right. That"s hardly sufficient time come properly define her campaign platform.

"I wish the money was much less of one issue, therefore I could go out and meet the people in a stronger way," Lombard said. "That would certainly make a large difference, not simply for the success the the candidate, yet for how our politics are done in this country."

The facility for windy Integrity is a nonprofit, nonpartisan investigative news organization in Washington, D.C.

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Ashley Balcerzak join the center for windy Integrity"s federal national politics team in 2017, her 2nd stint in ~ the CPI. She covered state and local politics for CPI together an American University other in 2015-2016.