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NRCC Eyes GOP Retirees’ Millions

The National Republican Congressional Committee is actively working to tap the campaign war chests of retiring GOP Members who are collectively sitting on nearly $5 million — more than double what the cash-strapped NRCC last reported having in the bank.

Nine of the Republicans who have announced they are leaving at the end of next year and not running for other office in total hold $4.67 million in their re-election accounts — money that they are legally able to transfer to the NRCC.

Sources said NRCC Chairman Tom Cole (Okla.) has been aggressively reaching out to Members who are leaving to discuss options for how their campaign funds could benefit the party’s 2008 efforts.

Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas), one of the most active Members in helping the NRCC, said there have been ongoing discussions with retiring Members about “our need and their desire” to transfer excess funds to the committee. He said Members have been encouraged to leave behind something that not only will help secure their own seat but also the party’s future.

“We believe the NRCC is the best catalyst and the best way for them to do that,” Sessions said. “We hope Members see — and we believe — it helps ensure the legacy that comes behind them.”

Rep. David Hobson (Ohio), who earlier this week became the 12th Republican to announce plans to leave the House, said he has not yet talked to Cole but is in the process of figuring out how he can use his $994,000 in excess campaign money to help the party. He has a meeting set up with an attorney to discuss the matter.

“We’re going to see legally what we can do,” Hobson said.

Hobson has an additional $204,000 in his political action committee, which he cannot donate in whole to any one federal candidate or committee. He can, however, dole out those funds in $5,000 increments.

Hobson said he plans to help the NRCC and the party’s overall election efforts however he can.

“We’re certainly going to help Republican candidates,” he said.

It is not uncommon for the NRCC to reach out to retiring Members to try to procure their remaining campaign cash. However, House Republicans have never had an election cycle where they face such an immediate and dire need for a money infusion.

In 2004, even as the NRCC was flush with cash, GOP leaders made a mid-September push to get retiring Members to transfer large sums of their unused campaign money to the committee.

But this cycle the NRCC has lagged far behind its Democratic counterpart when it comes to available funds for the 2008 elections, as Cole has worked to pay down a large debt leftover from the 2006 cycle. As of Aug. 31, the NRCC had less than $2 million in its coffers while the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee had more than $22 million.

Behind Hobson, GOP Reps. Jim Ramstad (Minn.), Terry Everett (Ala.) and Chip Pickering (Miss.) have the largest campaign war chests among the retiring Members. Their three campaign committees have a total of $2.4 million.

Pickering said he had been in close consultation with Cole about how he could use a portion of his funds to help the NRCC and GOP candidates.

“He’s recommended some good uses,” Pickering said.

He plans to give to the NRCC, Congressional candidates and also to contests in Mississippi, where legislative and statewide elections are being held next month.

But Pickering won’t be giving away all of the $761,000 he has left in his campaign fund. He made clear that he will reserve a portion for a potential future run for office. Pickering has long harbored statewide ambitions and is viewed as a likely Senate or gubernatorial candidate in 2012.

However, not everyone who is leaving Congress appears as eager to devote leftover campaign funds to the NRCC or the GOP cause.

Everett, who hasn’t faced a competitive race in years and ended September with a $834,000 campaign account balance, didn’t have much to say when he was asked about the possibility of donating to the NRCC.

“I haven’t had time to think about it,” he said.

A total of six GOP Members are retiring in Ohio and Illinois and it is a good bet that both Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio) and former Speaker Dennis Hastert (Ill.), who is among those retiring, will press their colleagues to help the GOP cause.

A GOP leadership source said Boehner and other leaders will be actively urging retiring Members to give generously to the party’s 2008 campaign efforts.

Retiring Rep. Deborah Pryce (Ohio), a former House GOP Conference chairwoman, said she is more than happy to use her $367,000 to help out the party.

“It will go to support House Republicans and central Ohio races,” she said when asked what she planned to do with her campaign money.

Hastert has donated and helped raise millions of dollars for GOP causes and candidates during his tenure as Speaker, and just last month the NRCC raised $500,000 through a salute-to-Hastert event.

But Hastert is not among those who are positioned to give to the NRCC now. His campaign committee showed less than $2,000 in the bank and $52,000 in debts as of Sept. 30. However, Hastert still had a healthy $490,000 in his Keep Our Mission PAC as of June 30, which he can dole out to GOP candidates.

GOP Reps. Jerry Weller and Ray LaHood, Hastert’s retiring home-state colleagues, hold a combined $712,000 in their re-election funds.

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