Three more Dems retire; more than $1 million in flux

Official portrait of Rep. James Moran, D-Va., taken in front of American flag
James Moran. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Add veteran congressman Jim Moran, D-Va., to the list of members not seeking reelection in 2014. The longtime lawmaker’s decision makes him the third Democrat to announce his retirement in the past week. Others are: Rep. George Miller, a California veteran, and Rep. Bill Owens of New York. Among them, the trio has a collective 68 years of congressional experience and, perhaps more intriguingly, more than $1 million in leftover campaign cash.

As of the most recent disclosures to the Federal Election Commission, Moran led the pack with $644,142 in cash in in his campaign committee and $83,593 in his leadership committee: the Virginia Leadership PAC. Miller reported $349,073 and $60,041 respectively while Owens’ committees disclosed $447,931 and $17,397 in their most recent report. What will happen to these leftover campaign funds is anyone’s best guess.

While federal law prohibits politicians from using residual campaign cash for personal use, this money may be used for any other lawful purpose. This means that retired campaign coffers can be used for everything from refunding contributors, giving to other political campaigns, donating to charity or — for those who want to maintain a political profile after retirement from Congress — starting a super PAC. Former Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., used his leftover funds to held jumpstart his Senate Conservatives Fund committee, an “independent expenditures-only committee” with which he has continued to exert his influence on congressional races.

Another option is just holding pat: some former members hold on to the cash in their campaign committee for years after their retirement. Former Rep. Marty Meehan, D-Mass., retired from the House in 2007 to serve as the Chancellor of the University of Massachusetts, Lowell, but as of Sept. 30, 2013 his campaign had more than $4.5 million in cash on hand. While Meehan has been steadily chipping away at his impressive war chest with contributions to charities and political committees, his dormant candidate committee still has more in the bank than any other candidate committee — meaning the university head decides to make a return to the political sphere he already has a great head start.

The ban on personal use of campaign funds only extends to the money in candidate committees — currently cash leftover in leadership committees is fair game.

While members of Congress generally use their leadership committees as vehicles for giving money to party allies some have used them for more than solidifying congressional alliances. A  joint investigative report by 60 Minutes and Breitbart News in Oct. 2013 found numerous instances of members making lavish personal expenditures with funds from their leadership committee. Among them:  Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., who spent over $100,000 of this money at a resort in Florida while Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., spent $64,500 to commission a portrait of himself.

While Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md., and Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., both introduced legislation to bar personal use of leadership funds in 2013, neither bill has seen action for months.

Sunlight’s Political Party Time tool shows that the retiring Moran was still fundraising for his leadership PAC as recently as October of last year. Though he has stayed mum thus far about his post-Congress plans, the veteran legislator told the Washington Post he “may be able to accomplish more outside” of Congress than inside.

Update 5:10 p.m. 1/15/14, Roll Call’s Heard on the Hill reports that on Wednesday Moran announced the cancellation of a Washington fundraiser scheduled for Jan. 24.