’04 Contenders Use Leadership PACs for Old Debts

Posted August 8, 2003 at 6:01pm

Even with official presidential campaigns up and running, a handful of Democratic White House contenders continued to operate vigorous leadership political action committees, some actively raising money and others dishing out near-six-figure amounts to fellow Democrats.

While some of the candidates wound down their leadership PACs to nearly closed-out accounts, a pair of Senators running for president, Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) and John Edwards (D-N.C.), maintained large balances as of June 30.

And in some cases, the leadership PACs were used to make payments to consultants or staff who were also on board the presidential campaign team, although aides say those payments were for services rendered last year.

Federal election laws forbid officially declared candidates for president from using leadership PACs as a way to pay for travels, staff, pollsters or consultants who are actually doing work on their presidential campaigns. And the Federal Election Commission has issued new guidelines that will limit future presidential aspirants from using their PACs as unofficial campaign vehicles before officially declaring their intentions.

In the first half of the year, however, the contenders continued, in varying degrees, to use their PACs in ways that were perfectly legal but also have the intended effect of helping the presidential campaign.

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), for example, cut a $5,000 check from his Citizen Soldier Fund to the re-election campaign of Sen. Fritz Hollings (D-S.C.) on June 30, long after it had become obvious to most Democrats that Hollings planned to retire, which he announced last week.

Edwards cut a $2,000 check from his New American Optimists PAC on June 18 to the campaign of Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.).

Despite Hollings’ pending retirement, Kerry’s campaign would no doubt like the endorsement of the octogenarian Palmetto State Democrat, who is neutral so far in the primary. And Clyburn, who is thought to be in the presidential camp of Rep. Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.), is the most influential black politician in South Carolina, where the Democratic primary could see more than 40 percent of the voters being African-American.

Edwards’ PAC and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean’s (D) Fund for a Healthy America paid $20,000 each for the donor database from the Senate campaign of former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.).

Gephardt’s leadership PAC, the Effective Government Committee, was the most active in terms of raising money from outside sources, taking in $85,000 in new contributions. Steve Elmendorf, Gephardt’s top strategist, said the money was needed to pay off outstanding bills leftover from the last election cycle.

“All of the money that was paid was paid out for services rendered last year,” he said. “We shut down the office, we shut down the phones. Our lawyers were very strict about not using the PAC to subsidize the campaign.”

The committee took in $72,500 from other PACs, all of which came from unions except for one check from the Association of Trial Lawyers of America. Some of the $5,000 checks were from unions supporting Gephardt’s presidential campaign, such as the Teamsters and the United Steelworkers of America, but a March 28 check for $5,000 also came from AFSCME — one of three key unions that has withheld its support for Gephardt’s presidential bid, and thus made the full AFL-CIO endorsement so far elusive.

Gephardt’s Effective Government Committee paid out a $5,000 communications consulting fee in early April to Laura Nichols, who was also serving as an adviser to the presidential campaign. Later that month, $7,500 went to Noah Mamet for fundraising consulting, and $10,000 in fundraising consulting fees went to Richard Sullivan at the same time. Mamet and Sullivan are part of the presidential campaign team’s top fundraisers.

Kerry’s Citizen Soldier and Dean’s Fund for a Healthy America also paid out money to some consulting firms that were working for the presidential campaign at the time. The Dewey Square Group, for instance, collected more than $2,200 in early February, long after Kerry opened his presidential committee in mid-December, for which Dewey Square is a prominent consulting firm.

Dean’s leadership PAC gave $9,000 on May 2 to Stephen Saunders, a Colorado-based policy consultant, after the former governor’s presidential committee, Dean for America, gave Saunders $9,000 in April.

Like Gephardt’s PAC, Kerry aides said the money that went out to any staff or consultants this year was for old debts from last year. Robert Gibbs, Kerry’s spokesman, called the money “left-over bills.”

“We are trying to get rid of the money and shut down the committee,” Gibbs said.

In the process, Kerry doled out $104,462 in contributions to Democrats and Democratic PACs and party committees in the first six months of the year, far more than any other presidential contender.

Most of the money went to fellow Senate Democrats up for re-election this cycle, such as the $7,500 to Minority Leader Tom Daschle’s (S.D.) campaign and $5,000 to Minority Whip Harry Reid’s (Nev.) account. Kerry also rewarded one of his prominent supporters from the first-primary state of New Hampshire, Burt Cohen, who endorsed Kerry last year and is now running a long-shot campaign to unseat Sen. Judd Gregg

(R-N.H.).

Citizen Soldier gave $10,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and also gave $5,000 each to a pair of PACs affiliated with two of the most important liberal constituencies, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and Congressional Black Caucus.

As of June 30, the account had been drained down to just $10,000, which will disappear “imminently,” according to Gibbs, when Citizen Soldier is officially closed.

Unlike a Congressional re-

election committee, leftover balances from leadership PACs cannot be transferred to presidential campaign committees. Like other PACs, leadership PACs are limited to $5,000 donations to presidential committees.

Gephardt’s Effective Government Committee was basically empty by June 30, with a little more than $5,000 in the account.

Dean’s PAC, after raising $44,000 in the first half of the year, ended June 30 with about $25,000 in its account. He gave to no federal candidates, but did donate $7,000 to the Coalition to Defend America’s Working Families.

Edwards and Lieberman still maintained large cash balances, with Edwards’ New American Optimists posting more than $94,000 in its account as of June 30. Lieberman’s Responsibility, Opportunity, Community PAC held more than $246,000 in its coffers, by far the largest amount of Congressional contenders’ leadership PACs.

“The PAC will continue to do what it was established to do, help elect Democrats to the U.S. Congress,” said Jano Cabrera, Lieberman’s campaign spokesman.

Like Kerry, Edwards used his PAC help win him support in key states, doling out $29,000 from New American Optimists to Democrats, most of it to New Hampshire and South Carolina. The New Hampshire Democratic Party received $1,500 from Edwards’ PAC on Feb. 18 and the South Carolina Democratic Party received $3,000 on March 19. In addition, an administrative account for the South Carolina Democrats took in $10,000 on March 31.