House Committees Covet Retirees’ Cash

Posted July 22, 2008 at 6:44pm

Retiring House Members — all but three of them Republicans — were sitting on a collective $8.9 million in available campaign funds at the end of June, newly filed fundraising reports showed.

The 23 departing GOPers — those who are retiring, not running for other office and were not already defeated in a primary — hold almost $7 million in their re-election accounts, according to second-quarter Federal Election Commission data.

Party committees covet the cash already collected by Members, who can transfer unlimited amounts from their campaign accounts to the National Republican Congressional Committee and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Republicans especially have made an effort this cycle to pry unused money away from Members who are leaving, because they have four times as many open seats to defend and because they face such a steep financial disparity when compared with the available cash Democrats have. The DCCC ended June with $54.6 million while the NRCC had $8.5 million.

Those with the biggest leftover war chests are retiring GOP Reps. Jim Saxton (N.J.), Tom Reynolds (N.Y.), David Hobson (Ohio) and Terry Everett (Ala.).

Saxton was the only Republican to show more than $1 million in his re-election account as of June 30.

While Saxton’s quarterly report did not show any transfer of funds to the NRCC, the veteran lawmaker did make at least $11,000 in direct contributions to GOP Members and candidates.

Last quarter he cut $1,000 checks to Republican Reps. Brian Bilbray (Calif.), Charlie Dent (Pa.), Chris Smith (N.J.), Robin Hayes (N.C.), Lee Terry (Neb.), John McHugh (N.Y.) and Phil English (Pa.). He also contributed to GOP challengers in two hotly contested races in Pennsylvania as well as to former Rep. Dick Zimmer (R-N.J.), who is running to unseat Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.).

Saxton transferred at least $250,000 to the NRCC last year. The committee recently kicked off its “Battleground” program, which focuses on Member giving. Some retiring lawmakers have already agreed to participate.

“We are currently in the middle of our Battleground program and are asking all Members, including retiring Members, to help us in these efforts,” NRCC spokeswoman Julie Shutley said. “Battleground funds go directly to helping Republican candidates, and we expect our Members to do everything they can to give back to the team.”

A cursory review of the second-quarter figures showed that most retiring GOP Members were more likely to give directly to other incumbents or GOP candidates than to transfer a large chunk of unused funds to the national party committee, which has struggled financially this cycle.

Members can transfer unlimited amounts of excess campaign funds to the NRCC, while they are bound by contribution limits when they give to candidates.

Retiring Rep. Jim McCrery (R-La.), a top party fundraiser and ranking member on Ways and Means, was one of the few Members who transferred a large sum of money to the cash-strapped NRCC last quarter.

McCrery wrote a $142,500 check to the committee in mid-June, around the time of the annual President’s Dinner fundraiser.

Hobson showed no contributions to the NRCC or candidates from his re-election account, which had a balance of $858,000. However, this cycle he has doled out more than $90,000 to candidates through his political action committee, Pioneer PAC.

Rep. Chip Pickering (R-Miss.), who had $606,000 in the bank at the end of last month, also showed no transfers to the NRCC but gave $7,000 directly to federal candidates from his campaign account.

Pickering sent $500 each to former Rep. Anne Northup (R-Ky.), who is running to reclaim her old seat, Rep. Tom Feeney (R-Fla.) and Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.). He also gave $2,000 to the campaign of Greg Davis, the GOP nominee who was defeated in the special election to fill now-Sen. Roger Wicker’s (R-Miss.) House seat — and who is on the ballot again in November.

Among the retiring Members, Reynolds’ campaign account activity especially stands out.

Reynolds, a former two-term NRCC chairman, collectively holds the most money among the departing Republicans. As of June 30, he had $872,000 in his re-election campaign and $755,000 in his PAC for a combined total of $1.6 million.

While he gave money to local and state Republican Party entities and candidates, Reynolds did not release any money from his re-election fund to the NRCC or federal candidates in the second quarter.

According to CQ MoneyLine, Reynolds has distributed more than $163,000 to federal candidates and GOP entities this cycle through his PAC.

Last quarter Reynolds contributed $5,000 to the NRCC through his PAC, and he has transferred roughly $35,000 to the committee for the cycle. Through his PAC last quarter he also gave to the leading GOP candidate in the race to succeed him, to the likely GOP nominee running against Rep. Brian Higgins (D) in a neighboring district and to the GOP nominee running to succeed Hobson.

Reynolds’ PAC also donated to GOP Reps. Randy Kuhl (N.Y.), Don Young (Alaska) and David Davis (Tenn.).

Everett, with $806,000 in the bank as of June 30, appears to be the most tight-fisted of all retiring lawmakers. He showed no contributions to other candidates or the NRCC for the quarter, and Everett has transferred just $2,500 directly to the NRCC this cycle.

Several of the retiring Members have little left over in their campaign accounts or are using what they do have to pay legal bills, such as indicted Rep. Rick Renzi (R-Ariz.) who showed just $3,800 as of June 30 and scandal-scarred Rep. John Doolittle (R-Calif.), who had $19,000.

Rep. Tom Davis (Va.), another former NRCC chairman who is retiring this year, showed a paltry $4,500 in his re-election account at the end of June after he refunded more than $268,000 to donors and PACs in the second quarter. Under federal election law, Members have to refund any contributions received after they announce that they are not running for re-election. Any money received before that time is considered excess funds.

Davis’ refund rate is higher than most Members. He spent most of 2007 stockpiling millions for an expected Senate run, which he pulled the plug on last fall. He did not announce he was retiring until early this year.

Reynolds refunded more than $90,000 to donors and PACs in the second quarter, after announcing his retirement in late March.

Retiring Democrats, meanwhile, have a much smaller pool of leftover money because there are only three who have announced they are not seeking re-election and not running for higher office in November.

Among them, retiring Rep. Bud Cramer (Ala.) has the biggest war chest: more than $1.6 million.

Cramer’s report showed that he didn’t transfer any money directly to the DCCC, but he doled out $19,000 in checks to House Democratic incumbents — many of whom are conservative freshmen facing tough re-elections or Blue Dog Coalition members. He sent $2,000 to Montgomery Mayor Bobby Bright, the Democratic nominee vying for Everett’s southeastern Alabama seat. Cramer also gave $2,000 each to Democratic Reps. Mark and Tom Udall, who are running for Senate in Colorado and New Mexico, respectively.

Retiring Rep. Darlene Hooley transferred $100,000 to the DCCC in late May and has also used her leftover funds to directly contribute to candidates. She sent $4,000 to now-Rep. Travis Childers (D-Miss.) just before the special runoff he won in early May.

She also contributed to Democratic candidates in Nevada, Maryland, Florida and Missouri as well as to state Sen. Kurt Schrader, the Democratic nominee in the race to succeed her. She showed $187,000 in the bank at the end of last month.

Rep. Mike McNulty (D-N.Y.), who had $92,000 on hand June 30, showed very little federal-level political activity on his second-quarter report. He sent $2,000 each to Democratic candidates vying for competitive GOP-held open seats in the Empire State.