Washington Former Wisconsin congressional hopeful Bill Arndt told his wife they'd have to "live on love" when he took time off from his insurance job to campaign. Election officials decided Monday that candidates need a bit more than that.
The Federal Election Commission agreed to let candidates pay themselves salaries using campaign donations, aiming to encourage people who otherwise couldn't afford to give up their jobs to run. Commissioner Michael Toner, who sponsored the proposal, said it would help scale back some advantages of incumbency.
"We might be able in some small measure to do something to make some of these races more competitive," Toner said. "This could be an opportunity for middle America, people of modest means who are not independently wealthy, to run for public office."
By a 5-1 vote, the commission that oversees election laws decided to let nonincumbents pay themselves at a rate equal to the salary of the job they held when they decided to run, or the salary for the federal office they are seeking, whichever is less.
U.S. House and Senate members make $150,000 a year. The president earns $400,000 a year.
Arndt said the FEC's ruling would help candidates able to raise enough take advantage of it. He said it wouldn't have made a difference in his campaign, which raised little. He collected about $5,000 in contributions and put $8,000 to $15,000 of his own money into his race.
Another 2002 House candidate, Democrat Travis Souza of Reno, Nev., said it would have helped him in his unsuccessful effort to unseat Republican Rep. Jim Gibbons. Souza said he couldn't take time off work to campaign because he couldn't afford to lose the wages.
"A lot of the events like candidate nights and forums were on weekday evenings halfway across the state," said Souza, 30, coordinator of the Instructional Center for Innovation at Truckee Meadows Community College. "It would have allowed more travel to get out to rural communities, more time to focus on doing fund raising and making connections and setting up meetings."
Monday's vote marked the first time in the FEC's quarter-century history that a majority of commissioners supported candidate pay. The panel previously told candidates it would be an inappropriate use of contributions.
The lone commissioner to vote against Monday's proposal, Karl Sandstrom, said he was concerned the plan was unconstitutional because it would let some candidates make more than others.
The plan applies only to candidates who run for Congress or the presidency. Presidential candidates who accept partial taxpayer financing of their campaigns won't be allowed to pay themselves salaries.