Joni Ernst: Use dormant $361 million presidential fund to buy virus supplies

March 20, 2020

Washington Examiner

A key lawmaker Friday called on Congress to tap the long-idle and cash-rich Presidential Election Campaign Fund to buy first responders supplies needed to fight the coronavirus.

Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst said the $361 million sitting in the fund and unused for more than a decade should be redirected to buy specialized masks and personal protective equipment for healthcare providers and first responders.

“Right now, there’s more than $350 million in unused cash sitting around in the obsolete and outdated Presidential Election Campaign Fund. This is simple. We should immediately move that money to where it’s critically needed: Let’s put it toward more masks and personal protective equipment for the healthcare workers who are on the front lines of this pandemic,” the Republican said.

The Center for Public Integrity’s David Levinthal said there are $361.3 million sitting in the fund last tapped by 2008 GOP presidential nominee John McCain. It is funded by a $3 check-off on federal tax returns.

Since 2008, candidates have chosen to self-fund campaigns, avoiding the restrictions that come with tapping the federal campaign kitty.

Legislation proposed by Ernst, who has been out front on the virus outbreak, would let the Department of Health and Human Services buy the equipment for the Strategic National Stockpile.

Levinthal, the editor-in-chief of the center, wrote in his latest column that tapping the fund is legal and useful, though it does require legislation.

“While the money remaining in the fund may not seem like a coronavirus game-changer, when the federal government is debating economic stimulus packages measured in the hundreds of billions of dollars, it could — if spent in targeted fashion — still do great good,” he wrote today.

“The money could prove particularly effective if used to help vulnerable populations, such as rushing aid to the nation’s homeless, boosting gig economy workers, buttressing food programs or helping low-income tenants pay rent. It could conceivably help reshape the way Americans vote in a time of social distancing. It could also buy ventilators, test kits and disposable masks,” he added.