Waxman retires with plenty in the bank, no serious challenger

Official portrait of Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., in front of blue background
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Democratic Rep. Henry Waxman’s announcement Thursday that he’ll retire at the end of his 20th term in the House comes as a surprise not just because of his longevity, but because the veteran California lawmaker appears to have continued fundraising at a steady pace this fall.

The 40-year House veteran, who represents a deep blue district spanning western Los Angeles and Beverly Hills, rose to national prominence by leading a series of hearings on the harmful effects of tobacco and has chaired a number of high powered committees during his 20 terms in Congress, leading hard charging investigations on topics from drug safety to global warming. From 2009-2011 he chaired the Committee on Energy and Commerce and currently serves as the committee’s ranking Democrat, a position that has given him access to plenty of political largesse from some of the industries his committee regulates, including health care and entertainment.

Sunlight’s Political Party Time also reveals that Waxman has remained active on the fundraising circuit. There are records of:

  • A cocktail reception in August benefiting Waxman was in August 2013.
  • party benefitting Rep. Lois Capps, D-Calif.,  that Waxman will attend Feb. 26 as  “featured guest.”

A crusader for healthcare issues, the congressman also relied on the healthcare industry to fill his campaign war chest. Since 1989,  health professionals, hospitals, HMOs and pharmaceutical companies have combined to donate around $2 million to Waxman’s reelection efforts. He certainly knows how to schmooze with the rest of them: at the 2008 Democratic convention, he was sighted at a party chatting with a Medtronic executive, where he told Sunlight the two had been talking about an issue “where we were on opposite sides. They didn’t convince me and I didn’t convince them.”

The 33rd District’s location means that California Democrat has also had plenty of time to rub shoulders with Hollywood elite — his congressional committee’s most recent quarterly report, filed in October with the Federal Election Commission, shows Waxman pulled contributions from Tinseltown executives David Geffen ($5,200), Alan Horn of Warner Brothers and wife Cindy ($5,200 total), actor Ted Danson ($2,600), $2,000 from musician Randy Newman and $1,000 a piece from Star Wars director JJ Abrams and singer/actress Barbara Streisand.

Of course like most entrenched incumbents, the congressman’s campaign receives a large chunk of its funds from political committees based in the nation’s capital. By the end of the third quarter of 2013, the Congressman Waxman Campaign Committee had raised $473,509 total — $157,122.97 of which came from inside Washington. The committee’s fourth quarter reports are due at the Federal Election Commission by midnight Friday.

On top of his candidate committee, the Democrat maintain a leadership committee, used to contribute money to congressional allies. While federal regulations explicitly prohibit the use of candidate committee funds for personal use, there is no such prohibition for funds left over in a retiring member’s leadership fund, making the fate of the $82,937 left in  Waxman’s LA PAC bank account far from certain. While some members will refund these contributions, Peter Schweizer of Breitbart News and CBS reporter Steve Kroft reported in October of last year that some politicians had been spending this cash on personal expenses, like commissioning portraits and paying for a personal trainer.

Waxman got some help from an outside source during his 2012 election, which saw him face off against independent businessman Bill Bloomfield — who poured $6 million of his own money into race — in the newly drawn 33rd district. The Committee for an Effective and Trusted Congressman spent $100,000 on radio ads supporting the incumbent. As Sunlight reported in November 2012, part of the funds for CETC came from an unlikely source for Waxman: the tobacco industry. The Liggett Group and several of the company’s executives donated a total of $33,000 to the super PAC. In the mid-1990s, Liggett broke ranks with the rest of the tobacco industry to reach agreements with state attorneys general in massive tobacco litigation. As part of the settlement agreement, the company admitted that “cigarette smoking causes disease and is addictive, released internal documents relevant to smoking and health, and agreed to jurisdiction by the Food and Drug Administration.”

When reached for comment at the time, Waxman’s campaign manager told Sunlight that she had not been aware of the radio ads from the group until the airwaves and that she did not know that Liggett had contributed to the effort. The North Carolina-based Liggett continues to support the congressman — Waxman’s third quarter report shows three of the company’s executives donated a total of $3,000.

The veteran lawmaker’s retirement marks another blow to the old guard of California’s Democratic party. Waxman’s longtime ally Rep. Howard Berman, D-Calif., lost to fellow Democrat Brad Sherman in a bitter intraparty battle after redistricting forced the two to face off. Berman is now a senior advisor at lobbying powerhouse Covington and Burling. As of yet the 74-year-old Waxman’s post-Congress plans are not clear.

(Contributing: Nancy Watzman, Palmer Gibbs)