Elected leaders are often justifiably accused of being short sighted, persistently seeking outlets to swell their campaign resources and, by extension, lengthen their political careers in Washington, D.C. This activity invites legitimate inquiries as to what ensues with the cash when the lawmakers retire from office.
According to USA Today, over 140 former members of the House and Senate preserve generous accounts of campaign cash which exist for use at the ex-lawmakers behest. Linked to campaign committees, the cash is most often expended to settle campaign debt or pay staff; however, many ex-lawmakers find themselves in the unique position of having several hundred-thousand dollars available to pursue political to-do lists after they leave office.
Since federal law prohibits the personal use of the campaign funds, the vestiges of a political war chests tend to be donated and directed to advance political causes or individual candidates of the ex-lawmaker’s choice. Former Massachusetts Democrat, Marty Meehan, now president of the University of Massachusetts, stated:
“I do like the opportunity to support causes that I believe in, and many of my former colleagues who I believe in.”
Other ex-lawmakers, such as the late Donald Payne, have witnessed family members create charitable foundations where Payne’s leftover $185,000 will be disbursed to benevolent organizations.
Numerous other ex-members of Congress have registered as lobbyists and continue to administer campaign funds to current lawmakers in areas where their lobbying efforts are tethered.
One former GOP House member, Cliff Stearns, now with APCO Worldwide, has made donations to a litany of members of Congress and cited “friendship” when commenting on his generosity. Stearns added the donations were unrelated to his current lobbying career.
Some observers remain skeptical: Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) has introduced the “Let it Go Act,” which would require former lawmakers to dissolve campaign cash over a six-year period after they exit Congress.
“It’s the idea that all this money is sitting around not being used for its original purpose which was to campaign,” Takano said.
While a majority of ex-members of Congress struggle to re-pay debt, a handful clutch sizable accounts which are managed in ways which may conflict with its original intent. In consideration of ex-lawmakers who register as lobbyists, this tends to arouse suspicion: The former lawmakers’ unrivalled access to Congress due to their own tenure in either chamber suggests a professional use of funds which benefits them personally without having to face the fury of the voters.
Let’s hope Takano’s bill advances and gains traction.