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Giving beat: Ex-officials keep old campaign cash tied up

  • Article by: Jean Hopfensperger
  • Star Tribune
  • May 28, 2014 - 8:27 PM

Although Washington lawmakers are allowed to make charitable donations from their campaign war chests after running their final campaigns, few actually do, a new study found.

Nearly $100 million is sitting in campaign finance funds held by roughly 100 senators and congressmen no longer in office, says the report by the Center for Public Integrity in Washington.

By law, that leftover cash can be spent on certain political activities — such as political party committees, candidates, campaign debt — but also can be donated to nonprofits.

Given the tough fundraising climate facing many charities, are former lawmakers sending cash to their favorite causes?

Nope. But then again, they’re not spending it on political causes, either, says the center’s Dave Levinthal. The cash, for the most part, is just gathering interest.

“It [charity] is definitely not a high priority,” Levinthal said. “The numbers point that out.”

The center examined the most recent campaign finance records filed with the Federal Election Commission and data from the Center for Responsive Politics, looking at war chests of former lawmakers who were not running for re-election and did not intend to run for re-election.

Nine former lawmakers and/or candidates had more than $1 million in leftover campaign money. Dozens of others had six figures. Former Sen. Evan Bayh, an Indiana Democrat, topped the list with $9.8 million in the coffers after leaving office four years ago. Marty Meehan, a Democrat from Massachusetts who left Congress seven years ago, had $4.6 million. Former Rep. Joe Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat who left office 15 years ago, had $2.6 million.

None of the funds belonged to Minnesota lawmakers, Levinthal said. But Rep. Michelle Bachman, stepping down next year, has $1.5 million, he said.

Jon Pratt, executive director of the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits, was surprised by the report.

“Clearly, this is a resource that could be put to better use,” Pratt said. “My advice to nonprofits: Go for it.”

 

Jean Hopfensperger • 612-673-4511

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