From coffins to coffers

Dozens of donors listed as 'deceased' have contributed $1.3 million to candidates for Congress, the White House and political parties

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Most people have heard tales of the dead casting ballots in Chicago or Philadelphia, but there's another form of posthumous political participation that has grown into a nationwide trend: donating money from beyond the grave.

A study by the Center for Public Integrity has found that there are at least 100 of the dearly departed still giving funds to political parties and to candidates for Congress and the presidency. Members of this underground political movement have contributed more than $1.3 million to federal candidates and political parties in the past 14 years. Senator John Kerry, D-Mass., former President Bill Clinton and Senator Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., have been among their beneficiaries, the study found.

As spooky—or as fishy—as that might sound, it’s done through a perfectly legal practice that doesn’t require seances or Ouija boards. People are setting aside money for future contribution via their wills.

The deceased, often known to vote Democratic in Chicago, have donated more overall to Democrats as well. National Democratic Party committees received almost $630,000; Republican Party committees received $588,000; and liberal National Committee for an Effective Congress received nearly $35,000.

The Center study found that in the 2000 election cycle, such contributors donated $245,000 overall. Two years later, a groundswell of activity in the deceased demographic raised that total to nearly $680,000.

Scores of these dead donors appear in public records with their employment listed as “deceased” on contribution reports; in other cases, the politicians reported receiving money from the person’s estate.

FEC spokesman George Smaragdis said people can set up “testamentary bequests” to support political parties and specific candidates after they have passed away. “If that is their wish while they are alive, money can be set aside for federal political action committees,” Smaragdis said, noting that because of new laws, estates, like living individuals, recently have been limited to donations of $5,000 to a PAC per calendar year. Federal law bans donations by non-citizens, foreign governments and corporations. But contributions are welcome from all U.S. citizens … dead or alive.

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