If former Sen. Evan Bayh again runs for governor in Indiana — there’s speculation he’ll seek his old post, although Bayh is mum on the matter — he’d likely have a multi-million-dollar fundraising head start on any opponent.
That’s because the Hoosier State’s campaign finance laws allow politicians to use any or all money raised for federal campaigns toward state-level political bids, Indiana Election Division Co-Director Trent Deckard confirmed in an email to the Center for Public Integrity.
Bayh has $9.8 million remaining in his dormant campaign account, an amount he’s largely sat on since leaving the U.S. Senate in early 2011.
That’s more than any other former member of Congress who isn’t at the moment seeking elected office, and part of nearly $100 million in leftover campaign money such ex-candidates have idled, as the Center for Public Integrity previously reported.
And it’s exponentially more than Indiana’s Republican Gov. Mike Pence reported having in his campaign fund at 2013’s end, which was about $1.4 million. (Pence, a former congressman, transferred or hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash and equipment from his federal campaign committee to his gubernatorial committee in 2011.)
Bayh, a Democrat, is lucky he’s not mulling a gubernatorial bid in, for example, Alabama.
There, it’s a felony for an office-seeker to “receive or spend, in a campaign for state or local office, campaign funds in excess of $1,000 that were raised by a principal campaign committee of a federal candidate.”
For better or worse, thank the federal government for the chasm between these two extremes.
Federal campaign finance law doesn’t restrict federal candidates’ use of campaign cash for state-level races, declaring plainly: “Contributions from federal candidate committees to state or local candidate committees are subject to state law.”
But say a state governor decides to run for U.S. Senate. Federal campaign law explicitly bars this politico from directly using funds raised at the state level to fuel a federal-level campaign.
There is, however, one notable loophole.
“A nonfederal committee of the same candidate may refund its leftover funds to its contributors and may coordinate arrangements with the federal campaign for a solicitation of those same persons,” federal law provides. “The full cost of this solicitation must be paid by the federal committee.”
Asked what he plans to do with his surplus campaign cash, Bayh replied in an email: “Because the future is difficult to predict, I don’t want to foreclose any possibilities at this time.”
Bayh served as Indiana’s governor from 1989 to 1997, and as Jerry Brown in California has proven, it’s possible for a state’s former chief executive to have a second act on his first, big electoral stage.
While in the Senate, Bayh flirted with, then ultimately decided against a 2008 presidential bid. Later, he nearly become then-Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama’s vice presidential running mate.
If Pence chose not to seek another term as governor in 2016, that’d create a major opening for Bayh, who some Indiana Democrats view as their best shot to regain the office since Democrats last occupied it in 2005.