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Should Victims of Kinde Durkee be Able to Raise Money From Maxed-Out Donors?

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U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein | Photo: MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images

Last week disgraced Democratic campaign treasurer Kinde Durkee pleaded guilty to defrauding California politicians out of approximately $7 million. Democratic Senator Diane Feinstein lost over $4.5 million in campaign funds.

Feinstein wants to go back to the original donors to replace her lost funds. The problem is that many of these donors have already made campaign contributions to Feinstein of $2,500, the maximum legal limit. Even for those donors who have not maxed out on their contributions, this poses a problem for Feinstein. If a donor gave $2,000, the most they can now contribute is $500.

In a draft opinion issued by the Federal Election Commission (FEC) last week the federal agency signaled that it would reject that request. The agency will vote on Thursday regarding Feinstein's request.

Feinstein is not only heavily favored to win the election, but she was also able to loan her campaign $5 million after the Durkee scandal broke. What if that was not the case? What if we were talking about a candidate in a competitive race without the personal resources to loan her campaign money? Should that candidate be able to go back to original donors?

On the one hand, allowing victimized candidates to go back to original donors could erode the purposes and effect of contribution limits. Those limits are put in place to reduce corruption and the appearance of corruption. If a candidate can raise $5,000 from an individual rather than $2,500, will that candidate feel indebted in a way that will harm the integrity of the political process?

On the other hand, candidates must be able to raise and spend enough money to effectively advocate for themselves in an election. If a candidate's campaign funds are wiped out as a result of fraudulent behavior from a campaign treasurer, or other campaign staffer, is it fair to penalize the candidate?

Those questions seem somewhat hypothetical when it comes to Feinstein, but may not be with respect to other candidates.

Jessica Levinson writes about the intersection of law and government every Monday. She is a Visiting Professor at Loyola Law School. Read more of her posts here.

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