For decades, Americans have been greeted with a question during tax season. They've been asked if they want part of their federal tax to contribute to the Presidential Election Campaign Fund. Many Americans probably aren't quite sure what the Presidential Election Campaign Fund is.

Well, the full answer can get pretty complicated. A simplified version is that U.S. presidential campaigns can receive funding from the government: Provided they meet certain qualifications and agree to limit campaign spending of private money. Since 2008, the fund has been largely unused, but it has continued to grow.

Given its largely dormant state, it's possible that Congress might have a different use for it.

It could be used to fund relief from the novel coronavirus

TIME reports that Congress could transfer money from the campaign fund to combat the effects of the novel coronavirus. It's also sometimes referred to as COVID-19. Christian Hilland of the Federal Election Commission said it would be possible. But it would require specific actions from Congress to do so.

According to The Hill, Republican U.S. Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa has put forward a bill to do just that. Money from the Presidential Election Campaign Fund would be redirected to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In theory, it would then be used to purchase things including protective gear for first responders and ventilators.

At least one other member of Congress has come out in strong support of the idea. Republican U.S. Representative Tom Cole of Oklahoma is one. Cole previously sponsored a bill aiming to take money from the Presidential Election Campaign Fund. In that bill, the money would then go towards pediatric medical research.

But, not everybody appears to be on board with the idea. A Committee on House Administration spokesman came out against it. He said it would "complicate Congress' efforts to swiftly respond to this public health emergency." The committee is chaired by U.S. Representative Zoe Lofgren, a Democrat from California.

Should Ernst's or a similar bill pass, it would not be unprecedented. The Presidential Election Campaign Fund was also used to provide money for political party conventions. In 2014, Congress redirected the would-be convention funds to the National Institutes of Health.

The campaign fund used to be commonly used

Historically, many presidential candidates made use of the fund. This changed in 2008. Both major party candidates, Barack Obama and John McCain, eventually opted to focus on private donations.

Smaller party nominees have recently used it. Libertarian and former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson did. So did Green Party nominee and former local Massachusetts politician Jill Stein. In Republican and Democratic primaries, long-shot candidates also decided to take advantage of it.

Buddy Roemer also did in his failed 2012 bid to be the Republican nominee. Roemer is a former U.S. representative and governor of Louisiana. Martin O'Malley also made use of it during the 2016 Democratic race. O'Malley is the former governor of Maryland and the mayor of Baltimore.

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