Former Sen. Robert Torricelli (D-N.J.) has divided his loyalties in the Democratic presidential nominating contest, handing out $1,000 checks to two leading Democratic presidential contenders. But his contributions to candidates for federal, state and local office in the first three months of the year have so far made barely a dent in the near $2.7 million left over from his aborted 2002 re-election bid.
Torricelli delivered $2,000 to Rep. Richard Gephardt’s (D-Mo.) presidential campaign on March 10, two days after he sent $2,000 worth of checks to the campaign of Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), according to records filed with the Federal Election Commission.
Torricelli sent $1,000 to the regular campaign accounts for Gephardt and Kerry, and another $1,000 each to the legal compliance funds for each.
An aide to Gephardt said his “longstanding relationship” with Torricelli led to the donation, which is not expected to be returned. Torricelli was a close ally of Gephardt’s during his 14 years in the House before he won a Senate seat in 1996. Torricelli and Kerry served on the Foreign Relations and Finance committees together, and Kerry campaigned for Torricelli in New Jersey last June.
Aides to Kerry could not be reached.
Retired lawmakers with excess campaign funds can do several things, including giving the money to charity, making contributions to candidates and donating it to national, state or local party committees.
Former Members are prohibited from devoting leftover campaign cash to personal uses.
In addition to the presidential contenders, Torricelli gave $4,000 to the re-election campaign of Senate Minority Whip Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who recused himself as chairman of the Ethics Committee probe of Torricelli’s personal and campaign finances because of his financial support of the New Jerseyan’s legal defense fund.
The committee “severely admonished” Torricelli on July 30 for accepting thousands of dollars worth of gifts for himself and his friends and family from a contributor who received Torricelli’s help in financial deals in North and South Korea.
The official admonishment appeared to rebut four years of denials of any wrongdoing, and Torricelli plummeted in the polls and bowed out of the race precisely two months after the Ethics rebuke.
With $5.1 million in the campaign’s account on Sept. 30, Torricelli paid off all of his own remaining legal bills and handed out five-figure bonuses to some of his top staff — but rebuffed pleas from Reid and other Senate Democrats to turn over large chunks of the left-over cash to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. On Dec. 31, he had more than $2.9 million in his campaign account.
In the first quarter, he signed up his longtime fundraiser, ex-wife Susan Holloway Torricelli, as a $10,000-a-month “management consultant.”
Over the first three months of 2003, he gave out $9,000 to federal campaigns and another $9,250 to candidates for local office in two jurisdictions: New Jersey and Las Vegas.
About $5,000 went to state and local party committees in New Jersey, and $1,350 was given to Torch PAC, a New Jersey-based committee filing under section 527 of the tax code that Torricelli uses to give to candidates in his home state.
Associates of Torricelli have previously indicated that he would turn the leftover campaign funds into a political action committee, as other retiring Senators have done, including former Sens. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.) and Phil Gramm (R-Texas). Such a move would allow Torricelli to cut $5,000 checks — $10,000 total, including the primary and general elections — to candidates instead of the $2,000 limit he now faces for each election.
While Torricelli’s own legal tab was paid off last October, outstanding bills from former staffers who were caught up in the more than three-year probe by the FBI were still being paid in the first quarter. Three firms received more than $116,000 in payments in the first quarter of 2003 for their work representing former Torricelli aides.
Using both campaign funds and money from his legal defense fund, Torricelli spent more than $3 million on lawyers for himself and his aides.