Impatient Massachusetts Pols in the Money

Posted February 2, 2005 at 6:36pm

Massachusetts House Members who frenetically raised money in the eventuality that Sen. John Kerry (D) would win the presidency and vacate his Senate seat ended the year with millions burning holes in their campaign accounts.

Almost every member of the 10-man, all-Democratic, House delegation seemed to be prepping for a special election in 2005 that never was to be.

Had Kerry won in November, a special election to finish his Senate term would have been held early this year.

Kerry is not up for re-election until 2008.

Members got their fundraising engines revving during last summer’s Democratic National Convention in Boston and kept them on through the Nov. 2 election.

Reps. Marty Meehan, Ed Markey, Bill Delahunt and Richard Neal all ended 2004 with more than $1 million in the bank. Ex-Rep. Joe Kennedy (D), a constant topic of political speculation, still has $1.7 million in his campaign account.

Meehan was the most prolific fundraiser in 2004 and needed little to overcome his Republican challenger in the 5th district race.

He only spent $500,000 but raised around $3.1 million for the 2004 cycle. He ended the year with $4.5 million in the bank — likely the most of any House Member.

He was followed by Markey, who banked $2.4 million; Delahunt, who had almost $1.9 million saved; and Neal, who held onto $1.1 million.

Some Democrats may wonder why these safe incumbents need so much money, but no one seems ready to fork their surpluses over to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee or charity just yet.

“The plan is to put it in an account or accounts that will bear interest,” Meehan spokesman Matt Vogel said. “It is too early to speculate about the next election, we just finished this election.”

Markey seems to have a similar approach.

“Congressman Markey plans to spend the money very wisely,” Markey campaign spokesman Morgan Gray said.

Bay State political watchers say there are several reasons why these flush Members should horde their dollars.

“You worked too hard to raise the money, it’s one of the most onerous parts of the business … so you’re not so easy to give it up,” says Michael Goldman, a former Massachusetts Democratic consultant and host of Bloomberg Radio’s “Simply Put” in New York. “Nor should you.”

Speculation runs rampant that all players will sit on their money in case a Senate seat opens up relatively soon.

“It all depends on what Senator Kerry decides to do,” one knowledgeable Massachusetts Democratic source said. “His decision four years from now will be the deciding decision for all of these moving parts.”

Kerry has not ruled out another run for the presidency, nor has he said he would leave the Senate, and he could legally seek both, though that is unlikely.

Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) has already said that he will seek re-election in 2006 and had $4.7 million in his campaign account at the end of December.

“There is zero possibility that Kennedy is not running and Kerry has said he will, so that door seems to be closed,” Goldman said.

That being said, one never knows what may happen in the future and anyone interested in moving up to the Senate probably wants to be ready, he added.

Meehan and Markey both viewed the possible special election as an excellent time to raise money, just in case, he said.

“Most people think it will be an up [to the Senate] or out [situation] for Meehan,” Goldman said. “For Markey, it was a one-time only opportunity to raise a lot of money in a short time. Again it’s waiting to see whether Kerry or Kennedy choose to go on another path.”

One path that no Massachusetts House Member has chosen is challenging Gov. Mitt Romney (R) in 2006. A big reason for that could be a Massachusetts law that bars federal officeholders from transferring their campaign funds into state accounts.

Goldman says there are other reasons beyond wanting to seek higher office for Members to want to sit on a pile of cash.

For instance, both Delahunt and Neal can use it to scare off any would-be challengers, especially independently wealthy ones.

Having a hefty war chest is like saying: “If you want to come and play, fine but this is where you start off,” Goldman said. “It’s defensive baseball.”

Another good reason is to position oneself for a leadership post or chairmanship if the Democrats take back the House, he said.

“I think that these guys are smart enough to understand that money in the Congress moves you up the food chain; it’s one of the ways you’re taken seriously.”

To that end, all four Members will have money to spread around to challengers and vulnerable colleagues if the need should arise.

“This delegation has historically been very good about paying its dues and doing its part for the [Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee],” the Massachusetts source said. “I don’t think there’ll be any increased pressure” just because there is no immediate Senate race, he added.

Beyond Kerry, who transferred $4 million into his Senate account and had another $10 million left in his presidential primary account, another big question mark in Massachusetts politics is former Rep. Kennedy.

He has been out of office since 1998 but still holds $1.7 million in his old House account.

“Nobody knows what Kennedy is doing,” the Massachusetts Democratic source said. The fact that he continues to accrue money “is the beauty of compound interest.”

Kennedy’s name is floated anytime a political opening develops in Massachusetts, but he has eschewed all campaigns since his last House run in 1996.

“I guess he hasn’t found one that suits him,” the source continued. “The speculation is that if and when his uncle’s seat becomes available, he’d be interested in running.”

Kennedy, who runs a nonprofit agency that helps low-income people pay their energy bills, is the nephew of Edward Kennedy and the son of the late Robert Kennedy.

Goldman says Kennedy may never seek office again.

“I have seen no reason to believe that Joe is not extraordinarily happy doing what he’s doing. He didn’t get suckered into running for governor, down the road … I could see him thinking seriously about running for a Senate seat, but it has to be the stars aligning in a certain kind of way.”

In the meantime, he’ll likely just sit on his war chest.

“He’s in no rush,” Goldman said.

Kennedy could not be reached for comment.

As far as the Federal Election Commission is concerned, non-candidates can let money sit in accounts for as long as they want, provided they file regular reports and otherwise abide by FEC regulations.

“If there was no activity for a while, we might ask them if they intended to terminate the account,” said FEC spokesman Bob Biersack. “But there’s no specific time frame about when you have to close down the account.”