WMBF Investigates: Is former SC representative’s campaign accoun - WMBFNews.com, Myrtle Beach/Florence SC, Weather

WMBF Investigates: Is former SC representative’s campaign account ‘informal retirement funds?’

Former SC Rep. Robin Tallon. (Source: C-SPAN) Former SC Rep. Robin Tallon. (Source: C-SPAN)

HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - Former South Carolina Representative Robin Tallon Jr. last served in Congress in 1993. 

However, 25 years since he last held office, his campaign account is thriving and he’s still using the money.

With no apparent run for office in his near future, Tallon has paid for computers with this cash. According to campaign finance reports, he’s also reimbursed himself thousands of dollars for unknown reasons and he has paid a salary to his son.

This WMBF News Investigation takes a look at how the money donated to Tallon’s run for office a quarter century ago has grown to more than a million dollars.

It also looks into what one watchdog group is doing to make sure the Federal Election Commission’s rules are clearer about what should happen to this money when an officeholder or candidate is done with politics.

TALLON'S TIME IN CONGRESS

From 1983 to 1993, Robin Tallon, Jr. served as a Democrat representing South Carolina’s Sixth District in Congress. Back then, that district included the area from Darlington to Myrtle Beach.

In those 10 years, he was the primary sponsor of only two bills that were signed into law by the president, according to a website that tracks the United States Congress.

However, what may be more notable than his work in Congress is what he’s been doing since leaving politics.

TALLON TODAY

Tallon's thriving campaign account, with more than $1 million in the bank, according to his last Federal Election Commission filing in April 2018, would lead one to believe there could be another run for office in his future.

But as of today, and for the last 25 years, there have been no formal announcements about any such plans.

WMBF News looked through hundreds of pages of Tallon’s FEC filings. Those filings can be seen below:

It was discovered that thousands of dollars from Tallon's campaign committee's account were going right back into his own pocket.

The FEC says campaign account cash can be used to reimburse a candidate. However, the money can only be for bona fide campaign-related expenses.

In Tallon's case, he doesn’t give a clear reason for how dollars paid to himself were used.

Brendan Fischer, with the Campaign Legal Center, a federal watchdog group, called these reimbursements problematic.

“I think Robin Tallon is the poster child for the problems with zombie campaigns, former officeholders leaving their campaign accounts open for decades and using them as informal retirement funds,” Fischer said.

Tallon’s FEC filings also detailed a pattern of payments totaling thousands of dollars for his son, Robert Tallon III, who is listed as the committee’s treasurer.

FEC officials say family members are permitted to work as paid campaign staff. The problem with Tallon’s campaign is that there isn’t one.

“The challenge when we are talking about a former officeholder like Robin Tallon, when he is no longer mounting an active campaign, it’s difficult to see what the justification is for paying thousands of dollars to a family member for treasurer duties or compliance purposes,” Fischer said.

Other notable payments from Tallon’s campaign account include these.

In 2007, Tallon put nearly $4,000 toward a Dell computer. Then again, in 2014, he bought another computer for more than $2,000.

Just last year, Tallon spent almost $1,000 on an iPad.

When WMBF News asked the FEC if anyone makes sure these purchases are being used solely for official campaign business, the FEC's deputy press officer, Christian Hilland, said "not exactly.'

“This is a recipe for corruption, for problems to arise if a former officeholder can use their leftover campaign funds as an informal retirement account,” Fischer added. 

TALLON'S SIDE OF THE STORY

WMBF News tried to talk to Tallon face to face, going to two different addresses listed for him and his committee.

No one answered the door during either attempt.

Tallon did respond to an email message just an hour before the story was set to air with this statement:

I have never used one cent of this money for personal use. Have given away to charitable causes many thousands of dollars and have have [sic] actively managed the investments in this account to increase over million dollars. I'm currently setting up two charitable foundations one one [sic] to help young people manage there [sic] income and acquire wealth and another to focus on helping economic development in the rural areas if the Pee Dee...Finally we have followed in intent and letter of the law. One might argue it should be changed because of the ambiguity.

Tallon was also asked why he has kept his campaign account open for so long and if he ever intended to run again.

His response was to check media reports, as he said he’s been encouraged to run for governor and U.S. senator “many times.”

THE CAMPAIGN LEGAL CENTER'S PETITION

The Campaign Legal Center has asked the FEC to clarify how campaign funds can be used by former candidates and former officeholders.

“I think there’s a strong argument that many former officeholders are in fact violating the law as currently written, but the widespread nature of this problem indicates that there is some ambiguity (to) FEC’s rules,” Fischer said.

The Campaign Legal Center is also asking the FEC to set a clearer time limit for just how long a former office holder’s campaign account can remain open.

The FEC seems to be listening. 

FEC'S REVIEW OF DORMANT CAMPAIGNS

Beginning with reports that are filed in July 2018, the FEC will start reviewing dormant committees’ use of campaign funds more closely.

“The FEC has signaled that they recognize there is a problem and recognize that former officeholders should not be keeping their campaign accounts open for decades,” Fischer said. “I would expect that former members of Congress like Robin Tallon are going to be much more careful moving forward with how they are spending campaign funds.”

The Federal Election Commission is accepting public comments on the Campaign Legal Center’s petition for clarification until May 21.

If the FEC decides that the petition has merit, it may begin a rule-making proceeding.

Below is the FEC's rules on personal use of campaign funds: 

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