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Rebuffing pleas from his colleagues for financial help, former Sen. Robert Torricelli (D-N.J.) banked more than $2.9 million in his campaign account on Dec. 31.
After dropping his re-election bid in the face of mounting evidence that an ethics scandal had made it all but impossible for him to win another term, Torricelli used campaign funds to clear up $1.6 million in legal debt but offered less than $20,000 to Senate Democratic causes in the final weeks of the 2002 cycle.
After he abandoned his campaign, saying he "could not stand the pain if any failing on my part" led to a GOP Senate majority in the 108th Congress, Torricelli decided against making any substantial donations from his own campaign account to Democratic committees or candidates. In the process, he lost much of the luster he held among colleagues and party strategists who once greatly admired the New Jersey Democratís political prowess in fundraising, according to numerous Democratic strategists, aides and lobbyists.
A source who remains close to Torricelli said that more payouts in legal bills brought the account down to about $2.7 million by the end of January. Once he is finished dispensing with a few small remaining legal bills, Torricelli is expected to transfer the remaining funds to a political action committee, from which he will be able to dole out $5,000 checks per election to federal candidates.
"Itís a question of mechanics before he does that," the source said.
While he couldnít legally spend the money on himself, Torricelli could have given it to charity or stored it away for a possible political comeback. He could also have handed out large chunks of it to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee or various state party committees, the path that party leaders most desperately urged Torricelli to follow in the final weeks of the midterm campaign.
The day Torricelli pulled out of his re-election bid, Sept. 30, his campaign reported holding $5.1 million in its war chest, a bounty that New Jersey Democrats initially hoped would be steered their way so they could help the fledgling campaign of his replacement candidate, then-former Sen. Frank Lautenberg.
It quickly became clear, however, that Torricelli had no interest in helping Lautenberg, who publicly feuded with Torricelli in the four years they served together in the chamber. Personally wealthy, Lautenberg pumped $1.5 million of his own money into the race and raised an equal amount from donors. Within weeks of his entry it was clear Lautenberg
didnít need any additional help, having pulled comfortably ahead of political novice Doug Forrester (R) in the race.
But national Democrats were still hoping Torricelli would steer the bulk of his reserves to boost their chances in other key races.
According to several Democratic strategists, Senate Minority Leader Thomas Daschle (D-S.D.), Minority Whip Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and then-Sen. Max Cleland (D-Ga.) were among those asking Torricelli for help in critical contests.
"I never talked to him personally, but I knew others were asking him," said Sen. Patty Murray (Wash.), who chaired the DSCC in the 2002 cycle.
Torricelli declined those entreaties for help before the Nov. 5 elections. Prior to the midterms, the only contribution to a Congressional candidate was $1,000 to Democrat Timothy Carden, who gained just 41 percent of the vote against Rep. Mike Ferguson (R-N.J.).