Jill Stein has raised more than $6.4 million in her bid to force 2016 presidential election recounts in three battleground states.
Where will all of that money go, though, and how is she allowed to spend it? It turns out attorneys could get almost half of the money raised so far.
And now comes news that Stein missed deadlines to seek recounts at the precinct level in Pennsylvania, instead filing a lawsuit seeking a recount that must demonstrate fraud and that some say a judge does not have the authority to grant.
Stein has already forced one recount: The Wisconsin Election Commission has ruled that a statewide recount in that state will commence on December 1 – as long as Stein pays up. Stein has filed suit in an attempt to force Wisconsin counties to perform the recount by hand. Stein also filed suit in Pennsylvania on November 28 asking a judge to force a recount there (that state’s rules for requesting one are a great deal more complicated, and the state GOP has labeled the effort without merit. Donald Trump – who is ahead in all three states – has called it a “scam.”) Stein has also said she plans to ask for a recount in Michigan.
Stein has provided no evidence of hacking or election fraud (and some experts have said statistics don’t provide support for the theories), but she says she wants the recounts to verify the election’s integrity (for his part, Trump has been tossing around undocumented and much criticized claims that millions of people voted illegally in the presidential election, without offering a shred of evidence for it). Hillary Clinton’s campaign has said it found no “actionable” evidence of outside interference in the election but will participate in the Wisconsin recount and possibly others to ensure the election’s fairness. Trump won all three battleground states by fairly slim margins, although his margin in Pennsylvania was the largest at more than 70,000 votes.
The quixotic nature of the Stein efforts – Hillary Clinton would need to flip all three states to win, which would be utterly unprecedented in presidential politics – has some wondering where the money is going. During the campaign, Stein was critical of Clinton, and it’s highly unusual for a losing candidate so far behind to seek recounts as Stein is doing (she says she believes in the election integrity cause and, certainly, it’s been an election season punctuated by various campaign hacks.)
Stein claims the average donation to her site is $45. “We have received over 130,000 donations averaging $45 each from supporters around the country,” her website says.
Stein says on her website that “only 414 contributors donated $1,000 or more, representing only 0.5% of all recount donors.”
Here’s what you need to know:
Lawyers Could Get Almost Half the Money
With all those lawsuits, you have to assume lawyers will get a share of the recount donation pie. Stein says on her fundraising website: “We are hiring experienced lawyers to ensure the legality of our operations.”
On her website, Stein says attorney’s fees are likely to be $2-3 million. Her website adds, “A portion of the money raised goes toward state filing fees, while the bulk goes toward legal fees and the cost of recount observers in each state.”
The $2-3 million was the estimate on November 28 when the Stein recount fund itself stood at about $6.3 million. Politico says that Stein’s website previously had estimated attorney fees at $1 million but then changed the figure as more donations flooded in.
Who are Stein’s lawyers? In Michigan, she is represented by Mark Brewer, “a former chairman of the Michigan Democratic Party,” said The Detroit News. In Pennsylvania, Stein’s campaign lawyer is Pennsylvanian Lawrence Otter, says Politico.
Wisconsin’s Recount Alone Will Cost Almost $3.5 Million
The first state where Stein has successfully forced a recount is Wisconsin. On November 28, the Wisconsin Election Commission tabulated the potential costs of the recount – which will have to be rushed in order to meet a federal deadline – and came up with a nearly $3.5 million figure.
Specifically the Commission put the tab at $3,499,689. The Commission said, “County Clerks have done their best to estimate the actual costs of conducting a large recount in a relatively short time. The estimates may vary widely as some clerks may not have been able to precisely identify their estimated costs in the short time available to them. If the estimate turns out to be too high, the campaign will receive a refund. If the estimate is too low, they will have to pay the additional cost.”
Wisconsin’s 72 County Clerks “expect to hire thousands of temporary workers to assist the county boards of canvassers in recounting the ballots. They also expect to be working extra hours and weekends to finish the recount by 8 p.m. Monday, December 12, the deadline established by the Commission,” said the statement.
Michigan’s Recount Will Cost Almost $800,000
It’s not clear why Wisconsin would cost so much more money than Michigan (after all, Michigan, unlike Wisconsin, only uses paper ballots and would hand count them all), but those are the figures elections officials and state laws have set.
The Detroit News estimated the Michigan recount cost at $790,000, and said counties might have to eat another $110,000.
Stein Says ‘Surplus’ Funds Will Support Election Reform
Stein’s website pledges to use any “surplus” funds toward “election integrity efforts and to promote voting system reform.” The website does not specify specifically how that would be done.
Former Federal Election Commission Chairman Michael Toner told NBC News that it was not clear whether FEC rules would allow Stein to do so. He said recount monies raised could be used for recount costs and legal matters but not other campaign purposes, according to NBC, which quoted him as saying, “Whether recount funds could be used to pay for ‘vote integrity’ programs would need to be decided by the FEC, but I would doubt that the FEC would find that to be permissible.”
NBC added that the Green Party doesn’t accept corporate donations.
Stein raised only about $3.5 million for her presidential election campaign itself.
The Fund Is Bound by the Rules of the Federal Election Commission
Stein says the FEC does not allow the campaign to use a “crowdfunding” site that would allow people to get their money back.
FEC rules limit any individual donation to $2,700, but people who donated that amount to Stein’s presidential campaign can do so again.
Fortune Magazine says Stein could donate any surplus money she raises to a charity or political party, per FEC rules. The article says that Stein would not be able to use the money for her own personal benefit, but quoted an expert as saying there is some flexibility beyond that. Fortune pointed out that Stein is compiling a donor list she could use for future political aspirations.
Stein Has Repeatedly Changed the Fundraising Goals
Stein initially said she wanted to raise $2.5 million. However, she has continued to raise the bar. Her website, as of November 28, said the goal was to raise $7 million.
The States Charge Filing Fees for Recounts
Stein’s website estimates these costs for recount filing fees:
Wisconsin: $1.1 million by Nov 25
Pennsylvania: $0.5 million by Nov 28
Michigan: $0.6 million by Nov 30