February 14, 2013

So Long, and Thanks for All the Cash

By CREW Staff

Cash StacksRetiring members of Congress are again dipping into leftover campaign funds to pay family members, foot travel bills, and make some questionable charitable contributions.

In December, former Rep. Heath Shuler (D-NC) donated $5,000 to the C Street Center, a Christian boarding house on Capitol Hill where Rep. Shuler lived when he was in Congress.  The house, affiliated with a religious organization known as the Fellowship that sponsors the National Prayer Breakfast, is infamous for serving as a rooming house and home base for scandal-ridden politicians such as former Gov. Mark Sanford (R-SC) and former Sen. John Ensign (R-NV).  Rep. Shuler also donated $20,000 to a church in North Carolina and $10,000 to “community schools,” though it isn’t clear where the schools are.

Former Rep. Todd Platts’ (R-PA) campaign, meanwhile, spent $40 on baseball tickets.   Former Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) used his campaign funds to pay for more than $7,000 in food, lodging, and travel expenses in November and December 2012, including $489 for food and lodging in Maine, the state where Rep. Frank’s husband lives.  Former Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-NY) spent $622 on Christmas Eve to pay for a hotel in Atlanta for the congressman.

A recent USA Today story found other examples.  Former Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-NY) spent $2,300 at the Apple store in Manhattan.  Former Rep. Norm Dicks (D-WA) gave $25,000 to the athletic department of the University of Washington, the school he attended and where one of his sons works.  The pattern echoes the examples of questionable spending CREW unearthed for No Strings Attached, a report published last year examining how members of Congress use leftover campaign funds.

Several members used their campaign funds to throw parties for their staff.  Former Rep. David Dreier (R-CA), for instance, spent more than $1,000 at a D.C. restaurant, Bistro Italiano, on December 27, 2012.  Former Rep. Charlie Gonzalez (D-TX) spent more than $6,000 at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouses in D.C. and Texas for “staff appreciation.”

Former Reps. Ron Paul (R-TX) and Elton Gallegly (R-CA) paid out salaries to family members despite having no campaigns to run.  Rep. Paul paid a combined $9,200 to his daughter, the campaign treasurer, and another daughter’s mother-in-law in November and December 2012.  Rep. Gallegly’s campaign paid his wife and campaign treasurer, Janice, $4,580 in November and December. 

Former Rep. Jerry Costello (D-IL) also used his campaign funds to benefit a family member, donating $43,000 to his son, state Rep. Jerry Costello II.  Rep. Costello’s campaign also paid for a $677 hotel stay in New Orleans on December 10, 2012.  Despite that, Rep. Costello has more than $1.6 million left in the bank, the most money of any of the 35 members who retired at the end of the last Congress.  Rep. Costello recently told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that he plans to become a consultant.  His leftover campaign cash will likely come in handy.  CREW’s previous research has found members who become lobbyists are more likely to build influence and access by using their leftover campaign funds to make campaign donations to former colleagues.

It’s worth noting that four retirees — former Reps. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY), Dale Kildee (D-MI), John Olver (D-MA), and Mike Ross (D-AR) — have already terminated their campaign accounts.  Rep. Kildee donated the balance of his campaign account, $10,740.77, to the YWCA of Greater Flint before terminating his campaign committee.  The others paid off bills and made a series of small expenditures and small donations.  Meanwhile, former Rep. Brad Miller (D-NC) may have some interesting expenditures, too, but we can’t tell you what they are — he hasn’t yet bothered to file the campaign finance reports that were due on January 31, 2013.

Although the 35 retirees are no longer running for office, their campaign accounts have a combined $8.5 million left to dispose of.  Depending on what they use the money for, these accounts could start to look an awful lot like slush funds.

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