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Colleagues Petition for Retirees’ Funds

After a House Member announces retirement, there’s often one lingering question from their colleagues:

What’s going to happen to the rest of their campaign cash?

There is more than $7.6 million in the combined bank accounts of the 19 House Members who have thus far announced their retirements. That sum will only grow as more Members call it quits in the coming weeks.

Campaign finance laws allow retiring Members to donate their funds to charity, give to their colleagues’ re-election campaigns, or save it for a future run for office. But the party committees are typically among the first to ask for financial help from Members before they exit the halls of Congress for good.

“Who hasn’t asked?” retiring Rep. Charlie Gonzalez (D-Texas) said last week.

Gonzalez confirmed that Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel (N.Y.) has already asked him about the $186,000 he reported in the bank at the end of December.

“Steve was super-aggressive about trying to get dues and such before I announced my retirement, and so it’s expected that he will continue to be asking,” Gonzalez added. “I’m hoping to be helpful.”

So far, Israel’s fundraising efforts have produced mixed success among his retiring colleagues, according to a copy of the DCCC’s dues tally obtained by Roll Call. As of Jan. 31, only five of the 12 House Democrats who have announced their retirements had transferred funds to the DCCC.

Retiring Democratic Reps. Dan Boren (Okla.), Dennis Cardoza (Calif.), Dale Kildee (Mich.), Maurice Hinchey (N.Y.), Brad Miller (N.C.), Mike Ross (Ark.) and Heath Shuler (N.C.) have transferred none of their remaining campaign funds to the DCCC, according to the dues report. But a few of those Democrats have raised money directly for the DCCC, such as Boren, who brought in $132,000 for the committee this cycle.

Other retiring House Democrats have been even more generous. Since their departure announcements, Barney Frank (Mass.) transferred $250,000, Jerry Costello (Ill.) transferred $150,000, and John Olver (Mass.) transferred $170,000 to the DCCC.

“The DCCC is a Member participation organization and we appreciate everything our Members do for us,” DCCC spokesman Jesse Ferguson said. “The DCCC is off to a strong start this cycle, and our Members are critical to our success.”

The 12 House Democrats who have announced their retirements — and who have no plans to run for other office — reported a combined $4.2 million in cash on hand, but the size of the retirees’ bank accounts vary greatly. Kildee had a paltry $34,000 on hand as of Dec. 31, but Costello reported a whopping $2 million in the bank at the same time.

Meanwhile, the seven retiring House Republicans have almost $3.5 million among their combined accounts. Among House Republicans, Rep. Todd Platts (Pa.) had the smallest bank account of the retiring class so far, with just $35,000. Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Calif.) had the largest, with $783,000 in cash on hand at the end of 2011.

“We do ask and encourage Members as they can fully support the NRCC to do so,” National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (Texas) said. “Many times, redistricting has changed their lot in life as opposed to some other circumstances and they recognize that we have an intrinsic interest to hold the seat after them, and they are aware of that.”

A recent tally of House Republican Member transfers to the NRCC was not available.

But at least once this cycle, redistricting left a retiring House Republican with hard feelings.

Last year, Ohio Republicans drew a new Congressional map that moved Rep. Steve Austria into a difficult House district that favored fellow GOP Rep. Michael Turner. Faced with nearly certain defeat in the primary, Austria reluctantly announced retirement at the last minute of the filing deadline.

As a result, the situation could get more awkward if House Republicans press Austria for his leftover campaign cash. So far, Austria said, his Republican colleagues — including the NRCC — have not hit him up for his more than $419,000 in campaign cash.

“They have not,” Austria said. “We will follow the process as far as returning those dollars to contributors who contributed to the fall election, and then we’re going to pay our campaign expenses and then follow the process.”

Other Members are taking their time deciding who will get their final campaign funds.

Boren plans to spend all of his remaining funds minus this cycle’s contributions, and the 38-year-old Blue Dog said he won’t save the cash for a future bid.

“I want to take some time to think about it,” Boren said. “But certainly, there are a lot of worthwhile things in the state that I want to focus on.”

In other words, the DCCC should not wait by the phone for Boren to call with his checkbook open.

“Chairman Israel is very aggressive, and you want that in your chairman,” Boren added. “I’m sure that I’ll get a few more calls.”

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