WASHINGTON — Pennsylvania state Auditor Eugene DePasquale has filed the paperwork for a rematch against Rep. Scott Perry in 2022.
But it might not be what you think.
After DePasquale’s much-hyped but ultimately disappointing campaign against Perry this year, he might have reason to run it back. These kinds of grudge matches are not uncommon, after all. Uphill challengers often use a first, failed run to introduce themselves to the district and raise their name recognition, before polishing off an incumbent on a second go around.
And with Pennsylvania projected to lose a Congressional seat in an upcoming round of redistricting, whatever new district is drawn around Harrisburg well may be more friendly for Democrats than the current one, which sent Perry back to Congress by a margin of almost 26,000 votes.
The campaign didn’t comment on whether any of that is the case, however, declining to comment on whether the filing, made late last month, means Pennsylvanians should expect DePasquale to run again next election cycle.
It would be pretty early to fire up a new campaign, especially with those new districts far from being unveiled. But hey, it’s already happening in at least one other state.
There is another explanation, though. The functional purpose of filing paperwork to keep a campaign committee active is to be able to legally fundraise. And there are two reasons to fundraise: Because you need money to run or because you need money to pay off debt.
DePasquale outraised Perry, the four-term conservative Republican, by almost $300,000 in what was thought to be one of the closest races in the country. But the race ended up being just another one of Democrats’ many disappointments on election night; they did not pick up a single Republican-held seat that was considered close by election forecaster the Cook Political Report and lost every Democratic held one, although a few races remain uncalled.
If the campaign is in debt, it would be an interesting development, because DePasquale raised a large amount of money — $3.7 million as of the most recently available fundraising reports — for an ultimately fruitless campaign. The public won’t know for sure whether the campaign still has money left to pay off until the next round of campaign finance reports are released in early December.
But ghost campaigns are not unheard of. The Federal Election Commission, the national agency that regulates campaign finance, typically doesn’t allow campaigns to shut down their operations if they still carry debt from the previous election, because the debt would be considered an impermissibly large campaign contribution if it goes unpaid.
But it is more rare to see at the House level, rather than presidential or senatorial, because the debts don’t tend to be as large, said Brett Kappel, a campaign finance expert at the Washington, D.C., law firm Harmon Curran.
Sometimes candidates negotiate with vendors to pay off their debts at a lower number than what’s owed, but the FEC would have to approve the debt settlement plan, and that can be a pain. So often, candidates will just eat the debt themselves.
“The candidate can contribute unlimited amounts to his/her campaign and that can be used to pay off debts,” Kappel said. “Many failed House candidates do that, but Senate and Presidential candidates with more significant debt rarely do so. Sometimes they just continue to file FEC reports for years – over a decade – that continue to report the debt and make no attempt to pay it off.”
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich famously still has $4.6 million in debt left over from his failed 2012 presidential primary campaign, and has told the FEC that he has no plans to pay it off. So his campaign remains active, though he hasn’t run for office since.
Same with Jeanine Pirro, the Fox News personality known as “Judge Jeanine.” She briefly ran for the Senate in New York as a Republican in 2005 aiming to unseat then-Sen. Hillary Clinton, and racked up nearly $600,000 in debt that the campaign has said it doesn’t plan to pay off. As a result, her campaign has remained active in the years since, though she hasn’t run for federal office.