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FEC Decision Allows Candidates To be Paid with Campaign Funds

By Thomas B. Edsall

The Federal Election Commission voted Monday to allow challengers in congressional races to pay themselves a salary from their campaign funds, a move designed to enable more people with modest incomes to run for the House and Senate.

Republicans and Democrats described the 5-1 vote, which overturned past rulings, as a way to level the political playing field for middle class Americans wanting to run against a senator or representative, whose annual salaries next year will grow to $155,000.

“This is very significant,” said Sam Popkin, a University of California-San Diego political scientist who has advised several Democratic presidential candidates. “It helps a lot of candidates move up the food chain, risking a shot at Congress and still feeding the family.”

Michael Toner, the FEC Republican member who pushed the regulation, said under the new rules, “blue collar workers, teachers, middle class people” can afford to take time off from work to campaign. “Why should the only people running be incumbents or multimillionaires?” he asked.

The new rule also will apply to presidential candidates, who theoretically could pay themselves up to $400,000 a year -- the president’s salary -- if they could raise that much money. But presidential candidates who accept public financing, as many serious contenders do, would be ineligible for a campaign-funded salary. Analysts said the rule will have much more impact on congressional contests.

The campaign-financed salaries would be limited, and challengers could receive them only if they raised sufficient donations from supporters. A salary could begin once a candidate files for office, and it would be limited to the lower of two numbers: the challenger’s salary in the previous year, or the salary of the office sought.