Political Benefactors Wanted: Dead or Alive
- At least thirty-two dead Americans donated upwards of $586,000 to presidential and congressional campaigns in the last four years.
- A sizeable chunk of that total – $245,000 – went to one national party.
But . . . isn't that illegal? Not really. In 2010, the Supreme Court made a ruling known as Citizens United, which established campaign laws that allow Americans to make political contributions through their estates. The ruling also struck down limits on independent spending by corporations and unions, helping to pave the way for super political action committees (PACs) to accept giant contributions. However, in making the Citizens United ruling, the Supreme Court also upheld the limits on contributions directly to candidates and political parties of $5,200 per candidate, per election cycle (or $32,400 per year to a political party).
- In April 2013, a donor gave $100,000 to his favorite PAC two months after he died, or so it seemed. But the actual gift was made the day before he died and was misreported.
- In another case, a woman who had died was credited with a donation to a PAC in the amount of $7,500. But the donation was actually made by her husband, using a joint credit card.
- Then there was the $38,000 donation to one party's national committee and a presidential campaign. The woman was a Hewlett Packard tech developer from San Francisco. While the donation at first appeared to have been made post-death, her sister explained the woman had put the donation in her will two weeks before she died in the hope of ensuring the party and presidential candidate of her choice were victorious.
Stefan Passantino, a campaign finance attorney in Washington, DC, acknowledges it's a legitimate option for people to make politicians and political parties the beneficiaries of their estates. Often they believe "the best thing I can do with my money is to help make the world a better place," said Passantino. But again, the limits have to be respected. In each of the cases described above, the problem lies in the reporting of the donations rather than the actual timing of the donation.