House retirees leaving $13 M on the table


The 25 House members who have announced plans to retire at the end of this year and who aren’t seeking higher office have money to burn.

An analysis of campaign finance reports filed this week with the Federal Election Commission shows that the House short-termers have more than $13 million combined in their collective campaign kitties. Number one on the list, compiled using Sunlight’s Real-Time FEC tracker: Rep. Dave Camp, a Michigan Republican who is currently chairman of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, a popular target for lobbyists’ contributions.

We’ve already detailed the money that parting lawmakers can keep: Campaign contributions to leadership PACs can — and are — appropriated for any use imaginable, as 60 Minutes reporter Steve Kroft has documented. But House members generally have far larger amounts of cash stashed in their regular campaign committees. FEC regulations and the rules of the House strictly limit the uses of this money. Basically departing members can:

  • Retire debts
  • Refund contributions
  • Contribute to other campaigns
  • Pay to continue operating their committees

The latter two options provide plenty of opportunities for politicians who might want to keep their options open for continuing their careers, or take positions where maintaining cordial relations with politicians might be key.

Smiling man with swept back grey hair, parted on the side, wearing open collar dress shirt, no tie and a dark jacket
Marty Meehan, a Democrat who retired from Congress in 2007, has a bigger campaign war chest than any lawmaker currently running for office. (Photo credit: University of Massachusetts)

In fact, the House committee with the most cash on hand — $4.5 million — belongs to the chancellor of the University of Massachusetts at Lowell — Marty Meehan, who left his congressional seat in 2007. A look at the campaign finance report filed this week by the former Democratic representative shows that he spent $67,500 making donations to politicians and political campaigns, most of them in Massachusetts, but not all: Meehan gave $5,000 to the gubernatorial campaign of Rep. Allyson Schwartz, D-Pa., and made smaller contributions to the campaign committees of Sens. Ben Cardin, D-Md., Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and Jack Reed, D-R.I. Marty Meehan for Congress also made donations to a number of Massachusetts charities, with the largest — $12,000 — going to the Marty Meehan Educational Foundation, and another $10,000 going to the Urban League of Springfield (Mass.).

Another former Massachusetts representative also makes the top 20 list of House committees with the most cash on hand: No. 15 is Citizens for Joe Kennedy 1988, with $2.5 million. That would not, obviously, be the current Rep. Joe Kennedy III, D-Mass., who was born in 1980. The Kennedy in question is the congressman’s father, Joe Kennedy II, who is now an advocate for affordable energy. His filing this week to the FEC reported some $30,000 in operating expenses and no contributions of any sort — not even to his son’s campaign.

Both the Meehan and Kennedy committees continue to register “contributions” in the form of interest on their bank accounts. You can see a complete list of all the House candidates’ campaign committees, ranked by cash on hand, here.