GOP Retirees Hoard Millions

Most Members Gave to NRCC Before Leaving

Posted April 24, 2009 at 6:24pm

Several Republican Members who retired from Congress last year are still sitting on piles of leftover campaign cash, recently filed fundraising reports revealed.

Former Reps. Tom Reynolds (N.Y.), Jim Ramstad (Minn.), David Hobson (Ohio), Jim Saxton (N.J.) and Terry Everett (Ala.), all Republicans, each had at least $400,000 in their campaign accounts as of March 31. Collectively, they held more than $2.8 million.

Almost two dozen GOP retirements opened the door for House Democrats to pick up nine of those open seats last cycle, including those held by Saxton and Everett. Although many outgoing Members gave to the National Republican Congressional Committee before the end of their tenures in the House, now they appear to be holding on to their campaign cash while the committee seeks funds to win back several of those seats in 2010 and pay down its remaining $5 million debt.

Everett had the most cash of all the GOP retirees from the 2008 cycle, reporting $721,000 in his campaign account at the end of March.

While fundraising records showed Everett donated $61,000 to Republican candidates, his campaign did not transfer any funds to the NRCC in the 2008 cycle. Everett, who could not be reached for comment, was succeeded by Rep. Bobby Bright, the first Democrat to get elected to the southeastern Alabama seat in more than 40 years.

Hobson reported having $633,000 in his campaign account. The Ohio Republican transferred $17,000 to the NRCC last cycle, but gave $50,000 to the Congressional Trust coordinated fund last year. Fundraising records also show he was a generous donor to local Republican candidates in 2008 and gave $30,000 to the Ohio Republican Party Legacy Fund.

More recently, Hobson also gave $25,000 from his campaign account to Wittenberg University last month. He spoke at the university’s commencement in May 2008, less than a year before he made the donation. The Ohio Republican also did not return a request for comment on this story.

Reynolds, who chaired the NRCC in the 2004 and 2006 cycles, reported having $624,000 in his campaign account at the end of March. The former Empire State lawmaker announced last week that he would spearhead Nixon Peabody’s new lobbying shop in Washington, D.C.

According to one House Republican operative, it is a fairly common practice for former Members to keep their campaign accounts open if they transition into government relations. The former Members can then use the accounts to donate to Congressional campaigns instead of having to dip into their personal funds.

“As long as former Members have campaign money they can give, they don’t have to give personal money,— the operative said.

The Republican added that while some of them might intend to donate to the NRCC, it’s unlikely they would ever give up their entire kitty to the party after they leave office.

“Do I think that some of them will transfer money to the NRCC in the end? Of course,— said the operative. “But I definitely don’t think that they’re going to give it all.—

Former Rep. Chip Pickering (R-Miss.), who reported having $387,000 at the end of March, also joined a government relations practice after leaving the House in January. Pickering gave a combined $109,000 to the NRCC and GOP candidates last cycle.

When asked if he plans to donate any more of his campaign funds, Pickering said he plans to give more to candidates in Mississippi and Washington, D.C. — although he has not decided where the funds will go yet.

He said most of the remaining funds are “at a point where I’m trying to put it in an account that will maintain its value over the long term.—

“I’ve not really made a decision for this year what kind of contributions I’ll be making,— Pickering said. He added that the NRCC has not hit him up for funds this cycle.

In an interview with Roll Call, NRCC Executive Director Guy Harrison acknowledged Friday that the transfer of funds from former Members to the committee was an ongoing discussion.

“I know that Dave Hobson helped us out last cycle as he was departing, and I know that Jim Saxton did as well,— Harrison said. “I think that will be a conversation that we’ll have. I think what we’re focusing on from a fundraising perspective is to hit all the goals that we’ve set forth so far.—

But it might be too late for some Members who have left Capitol Hill for good.

Ramstad, who reported having $461,000 left in his campaign, has a tentative plan to terminate the account by midway through this year and donate the rest to a not-for-profit group. According to a former Ramstad aide, it is doubtful that the Minnesota Republican would transfer any of the remaining funds to any of the political committees.

Ramstad already donated $15,000 to charities that support substance abuse recovery so far this year — a flagship issue for the former Congressman, who has lived for more than two decades as a recovering alcoholic. Ramstad also dropped more than $4,600 at the official House gift shop during his last year in office for “goodwill gifts,— according to fundraising reports.

Other former Republican Members were quite generous to the campaign committees before they left office.

Saxton was succeed by a Democrat, but not before he transferred $650,000 to the NRCC last cycle — more than twice the amount of any other retiring Member sitting on a six-figure campaign account. Saxton reported having $406,000 in his account at the end of last month.

Former Rep. Jim Walsh (R-N.Y.) transferred $122,000 to the NRCC, plus gave GOP candidates an additional $47,000 last cycle. Walsh also donated $7,000 to charity, plus $5,000 to his new firm’s political action committee earlier this year. His campaign account balance was $181,000 at the end of March.

Although Democrats picked up Rep. Deborah Pryce’s (R-Ohio) seat in 2008, she transferred $153,000 to the NRCC and gave $33,000 to other candidates during the cycle. Pryce reported having $104,000 in her account at the end of March.

And while Republicans suffered the vast majority of retirements last cycle, at least two former Democratic Members are still keeping six-figure campaign accounts.

Former Rep. Bud Cramer (D-Ala.) reported having $125,000 in his campaign account last month. Cramer, however, donated much of his excess funds to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee last cycle, pumping $264,000 into the committee in 2008.

But the Holy Grail of campaign accounts belongs to former Rep. Marty Meehan (D-Mass.), who reported $4.9 million. Meehan resigned from the House in 2007 to take a top post at the University of Massachusetts, but he has ambitions to run for Senate someday in the Bay State.

Meehan has given $45,000 to other Democrats since he stepped down, plus $100,000 to the DCCC in March 2008.