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Political contributions from beyond the grave

You can’t legally cast a vote from beyond the grave, but political contributions? That's another story.  By Brock N. Meeks.
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You can’t legally cast a vote from beyond the grave, but political contributions? That's another story.

It's the ultimate dead giveaway. 

In a legal, albeit creepy, twist on the “you can’t take it with you” theme, federal law allows a person’s estate to continue making financial contributions to candidates, political parties or political action committees long after the person has taken his or her last breath. 

More than 100 such bequests are currently active, according to figures unearthed just in time for Halloween by the non-partisan Center for Public Integrity.  More than $1.3 million in political contributions to federal candidates and political parties have been given by the dead since 1991, says the Center’s “From Coffins to Coffers” report.

The dead, it seems, are equal opportunity givers. The National Democratic Party committees have received almost $630,000 while the Republican Party committees took in $588,000 from deceased givers, according the Center’s review of campaign finance reports.

The study shows that the 2002 election cycle was the biggest dead giveaway, with some $680,000 being contributed, more than half the total of all bequest giving.  “There were just some huge contributions made that year,” said Elizabeth Brown, a researcher at the Center who worked on the report.

Candidates and political parties must file public records to document political contributions and many of those reports list the donor occupation or employer as simply “deceased.”  In other cases the name of the deceased is identified as having come from a person’s estate.

The Federal Election Committee said that the contributions, legally known as “testamentary bequests,” are completely above ground. “Funds can be given to a candidate or an entity as long it’s within the legal limits,” said George Smaragdis, an FEC spokesman.  “There’s a fairly long history of these types of bequests, reaching back to the 1980s,” Smaragdis said.

Campaign finance laws limit the giving of the living and dead to $5,000 per year to political action committees and $26,700 to national party committees, Smaragdis said.