Money Matters: Hastert Still Sitting on PAC Riches

Posted October 22, 2008 at 5:59pm

Since former Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) called it quits last year, he has shied away from the limelight, presumably settling into his old routine in suburban Chicago, getting a job at Dickstein Shapiro and taking a well-earned break after two decades in Congress.

[IMGCAP(1)]But did Hastert stand by as Rome burned for Republicans, hoarding hundreds of thousands of dollars in political action committee cash while his former colleagues and GOP recruits struggled to raise money?

By the time Hastert retired nearly one year ago, his campaign account had dwindled to roughly $1,200, drained after shelling out hundreds of thousands of dollars to lawyers, fundraisers and consultants in the final months of his Congressional career, according to Federal Election Commission fillings.

Although his primary campaign account was nearly depleted when he sent his resignation letter to Land of Lincoln Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) on Nov. 26, 2007, a handsome sum remained in the former Speaker’s PAC. FEC records show that on Jan. 1, Hastert’s Keep Our Mission PAC had $505,000 in the bank.

The former high school wrestling coach did not respond to an interview request from Money Matters, but he has given just $31,000 to candidates through his PAC since Jan. 1 and still sits on more than $450,000.

Of the $31,000 Hastert gave to candidates this year, nearly half of it was given to self-funding Jim Oberweis (R), who ran to replace Hastert. The Midwestern dairy magnate, whom Hastert endorsed in the primary, lost to now-Rep. Bill Foster (D) in a gruesome special election in March, Oberweis’ fourth high-profile electoral drubbing in Illinois this decade.

Hastert also gave $10,000 to Rep. Robin Hayes (R-N.C.), who again is facing a tough challenge this cycle from high school teacher Larry Kissell (D); $5,000 to unchallenged House Republican Conference Chairman Adam Putnam (Fla.); and $1,000 to Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska).

Stevens, who defended himself in a Washington, D.C., court this week amid allegations that he received discounted renovations from an oil services company executive, is in a tight contest this cycle with Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich (D).

Hastert also wrote his now-dormant re-election committee a $3,800 check on May 20, and curiously, a $15,000 check written to the National Republican Congressional Committee in February 2007 was returned to Hastert’s PAC on June 30.

Lawrence Norton, a former FEC lawyer now at Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice, told Money Matters that unlike principal campaign committees, the FEC puts very few restrictions on how former lawmakers spend money in their leadership PACs.

“So long as you’re not violating a federal or state law, there’s no ‘personal use’ prohibitions,” Norton said. “He could park it in a lot of places.

“He could give it charity. He could spread it out to candidates. He could give to state party committees.”

PACs can give $5,000 to a Congressional candidate per election, $15,000 to a national party committee per year and $5,000 to state and local parties per year. The NRCC, which recently took out an $8 million loan to bankroll candidates through Election Day, declined to comment on Hastert’s PAC.

Joe the Donor. The Republican National Committee on Tuesday launched an online database of its “un-itemized” campaign contributions, gifts of $200 or less, whose donors are typically not disclosed.

RNC Chairman Mike Duncan said that although Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) “talks a lot about openness and transparency,” the new GOP Web tool is an example of how “Republicans walk the walk.”

One thing is for sure: Joe “the Plumber” Wurzelbacher is a Republican donor. The Toledo, Ohio, resident, who became familiar campaign fodder after last week’s presidential debate but has never given to a federal campaign, gave $100 to the RNC sometime since early summer, according to the new database.

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