With Smith switching races, what happens to unused campaign funds?

Christy Smith, a candidate for California's 38th District Assembly, speaks to consituents and donors during a campaign kickoff at a residence in Newhall on Thursday. Samie Gebers/The Signal
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The 2020 25th Congressional District race has already presented several first-of-its-kind scenarios for the Santa Clarita Valley, and with it, fresh questions about campaign finance. 

Among those inquiries: What happens with Assemblywoman Christy Smith’s state Legislature campaign fund now that she’s running for Congress? 

Smith, D-Santa Clarita, a first-term legislator who raised more than $2 million in 2018, was on her way to remain a lead fundraiser for her re-election for the 38th Assembly District seat, which represents the Santa Clarita and Simi valleys. 

She received nearly $430,000 in total contributions during the latest election cycle, according to the Secretary of State’s financial report in July for Jan. 1 through June 30. Her totals, which were more than any other local incumbent during the same time period, left her with $369,000 in cash on hand after spending $64,000 during that time. 

In late October, she announced the launch of her campaign to fill former Rep. Katie Hill’s congressional seat, after Hill resigned from Congress on Nov. 1. 

Smith has not yet publicly shared definitive plans on what she will do with residual funds, and while she and her campaign committee have not responded to requests for comment on the matter, the Fair Political Practices Commission and the Federal Election Commission have rules on what politicians can do with unused campaign money. Smith did not return calls seeking comment for this story.

For one, Smith can’t transfer the funds to her congressional campaign committee, according to the FPPC. 

“A candidate’s authorized (federal) committee may not accept funds or assets transferred from a committee established by the same candidate for a non-federal election campaign,” read a section of its campaign guide for congressional candidates. 

A non-federal committee of the same candidate may, however, “refund its leftover funds to its contributors and may coordinate arrangements with the federal campaign for a solicitation of those same persons,” read the guide. 

Funds are also prohibited from covering personal expenses, but they can be “(donated) to charity, pay off outstanding campaign expenses, or, before the funds become surplus, use to run for the same or different office,” as well as be returned to its donors, said FPPC spokesman Jay Wierenga. 

Candidates who want to transfer unused campaign dollars to another committee for a future election or a different one would have to do so “fairly soon after an election” as campaign funds become surplus on the 90th day after the closing date for the post-election reporting period or upon the 90th day after the date of leaving office, according to the FPPC. 

Smith is in a 2020 race against Democratic candidates, such as filmmaker Christopher Smith; and Cenk Uygur, founder of liberal political news show “The Young Turks;” as well as Republican candidates, including former naval fighter pilot Mike Garcia; former Rep. Steve Knight; and George Papadopoulos, a former adviser to President Donald Tr

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