Sens. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) might be retiring from Congress, but so far they aren’t taking a break from fundraising.
Both Senators announced earlier this year that they would not seek re-election in 2012, but the two have continued to hit up potential donors on K Street and around D.C. for contributions to their leadership political action committees.
K Street’s response: We’d rather not.
“I’m not supporting this stuff,” said one high-profile lobbyist who has been solicited by the retirees. “People are stunned. It just doesn’t seem quite right.”
Conrad’s DAKPAC held a breakfast Wednesday at Capitol Hill’s Charlie Palmer Steak restaurant; the minimum donation to attend was $1,000, according to an invitation. Lieberman and his wife, Hadassah, are headlining an April 5 evening event at D.C.’s Bibiana Osteria & Enoteca. The suggested contribution to Lieberman’s Reuniting Our Country PAC is $2,500.
It’s difficult to find out why retiring Members continue to work the fundraising circuit. An official in Lieberman’s Senate press office did not return a call seeking comment, and a fundraiser for Conrad said she would have someone get in touch, but no one had by press time.
Members who are not running for re-election can continue to raise money for their leadership PACs to help their in-cycle colleagues, or they can give the money to party committees. They’re also free to donate the money to charity. In fact, they can use the money any way they see fit.
“The campaign finance laws do not prohibit you from using leadership funds for personal use,” explained former Federal Election Commission General Counsel Larry Noble, who is now a counsel in the political law department at Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom. Leadership PACs allow departing Members “to remain politically active and to remain a player.”
If Members decamp for K Street, as ex-lawmakers they can continue giving political cash to sitting Members through their PACs — something ordinary lobbyists privately said they resent. In effect, the money lobbyists contribute to ex-lawmaker PACs is used against them in the competitive game of developing business.
It’s all that uncertainty about how retired Members can use the donations that has most lobbyists opting not to give their campaign cash to those preparing for careers off the Hill.
“Why wouldn’t I give to someone who’s in cycle, rather than someone who’s leaving?” one Democratic lobbyist said. “Granted, they’ll be around for the next two years. But if you’ve announced you’re retiring, when there’s so many people in need, why wouldn’t they just host an event for Members they want to help?”