Spring Election

Following an election, candidates can hold onto campaign contributions for a future election. If a candidate doesn't plan to run again, there are a few options for reaching a zero balance.

Q: What happens to unspent campaign contributions?

A: As long as a candidate maintains a committee, campaign contributions can be spent for future elections, said Daniel A. Carlton Jr., administrator of the Wisconsin Ethics Commission.

If a candidate does not plan to run for office again, the committee account needs to have a zero balance before it can be terminated, Carlton said.

“In order to get down to the $0 balance, (Wisconsin law) says that residual funds can be used for any purpose not prohibited by law, returned to the donors in an amount not exceeding the original contribution or donated to a charitable organization or the common school fund,” Carlton said.

If the committee decides to return campaign donations, the candidate or committee treasurer can choose which donors to return funds to, according to the Ethics Commission. They are not required to return a pro-rated portion of the funds to each donor.

Campaign contributions can also be donated to other candidates, within contribution limits, according to the Ethics Commission.

When disbanding the committee, the candidate must also file a termination report showing that all financial obligations have been paid and the final balance is zero.

— Shelley K. Mesch

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Shelley K. Mesch is a general assignment reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal. She earned a degree in journalism from DePaul University.