What Happens After a Lawmaker Goes to That Great Lectern Beyond

By Mary Ann Akers And Paul Kane
Thursday, April 3, 2008

Handling the estate of someone who dies without a will can be difficult for the survivors. Who gets the house? The car? The family heirlooms? When members of Congress pass away, there's an additional question: What happens to their campaign cash?

Under law, when lawmakers die the leftover money in their reelection accounts is under the legal control of their campaign treasurers. Rep. Walter B. Jones (R-N.C.) wants to change that, and the House Administration Committee approved a bill drafted by Jones yesterday that would allow each member to designate a person to be in charge of his campaign account should he die.

As Jones told Ben Pershing of washingtonpost.com's Capitol Briefing: "Not many members have thought about it. . . . Most members don't even know about this."

Jones has some firsthand experience with the current law. His father, Walter B. Jones (R-N.C.), died in 1992 in the middle of his 13th term in the House.

"When they tried to settle my father's estate, the treasurer said, 'I own the account,' " Jones recalled. Fortunately, the treasurer was a family friend and dispensed the money according to the family's wishes, but the process was complicated and confusing, Jones said.

Many members have hired operatives as treasurers. And with the scandal over missing funds at the National Republican Congressional Committee, trust in campaign treasurers is ebbing these days.

"If a member dies, wouldn't it be better for his wife . . . to determine how to disburse the funds?" Jones asked.

With personal use of funds now prohibited, deceased lawmakers' campaign cash often goes to charity. For example, the campaign account of the late congressman Charles Whitlow Norwood Jr. (R-Ga.) ended up dispensing more than $675,000 to various charities after he died in 2007.

1,103,843 Reasons to Give

Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) is usually precise.

When Democrats needed six seats to reclaim the majority in the Senate in 2006, Schumer delivered six seats. When the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee needed to reach its first-quarter fundraising goal, Schumer got his colleagues going with his usual exactitude.

On March 18, an e-mail pitch from Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) told potential donors that "they tell me it will take exactly $1,103,843 more before March 31 to meet [this] critical first quarter fundraising goal." Ten days later, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) delivered the same pitch.

"The DSCC needs $1,103,843 before the critical March 31 end-of-quarter fundraising deadline -- just 3 days away!" she wrote. "Give now and a group of Democratic Senators will match your contribution 2-to-1."

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