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A Politician's Favorite Charity Is . . .

By Mary Ann Akers And Paul Kane
Thursday, May 1, 2008

A pair of former senators recently decided that charity is the best way to get rid of some excess political cash -- albeit in somewhat unusual fashion.

Robert G. Torricelli, the New Jersey Democrat who left office amid a corruption scandal, walked away in 2002 with almost $3 million in his campaign account. After he was caught accepting thousands of dollars of inappropriate gifts from a favor-seeking donor, Torricelli infamously asked, "When did we become such an unforgiving people?"

Now he's trying to be more forgiving himself. According to the Record of Hackensack, Torricelli dropped more than $1.6 million from his old Senate campaign into the newly minted Rosemont Foundation, which he controls and which is based in his office.

"He sees the foundation as a way to support the causes he fought so ardently for in the Congress," Sean Jackson, a longtime aide, told the Record. Jackson cited open-space preservation and fighting breast cancer as likely worthy causes.

Torricelli still has $446,000 left in his campaign kitty, according to the latest Federal Election Commission records, enough for political donations that will yield goodwill toward his lobbying and consulting business, Rosemont Associates. Torricelli already has spent nearly $1 million from the campaign fund over the past 5 1/2 years, most of it on donations to New Jersey Democratic candidates and committees.

And then there's Trent Lott, the Mississippi Republican who quit the Senate in December to become a lobbyist. Lott zeroed out his political action committee, the New Republican Majority Fund, by writing a check for nearly $200,000 in early February to a foundation associated with his alma mater, the University of Mississippi.

Lott can't get enough of Ole Miss, for which he raised millions of dollars in the 1990s to launch the Trent Lott Leadership Institute there.

Like Torricelli, Lott isn't all about charitable giving these days. While he shuttered his PAC, he still had $1.1 million left in his former reelection account, according to the Clarion-Ledger of Jackson, Miss.

That money will be rolled into a new PAC, allowing the senator-turned-lobbyist to dole out $5,000 campaign checks to former colleagues whose doors Lott will be knocking on after the one-year ban on direct lobbying by him ends in late December.

Flash Gordon

For the 19th time, Rep. Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.) has won the title of "fastest man in Congress." Gordon did it again Wednesday morning, beating 33 other senators and House members in the annual ACLI Capital Challenge three-mile race in Anacostia Park.

Gordon, 59, wasn't quite as fast as he was last year, but he finished in 18 minutes 40 seconds -- just 16 seconds shy of his 2007 time.

"Nineteen wins in 19 tries seems pretty good for an old guy," said Gordon spokeswoman Julie Eubank.

Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-Ohio) again took the "fastest woman in Congress" award, finishing in 22:50, ahead of Reps. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) and Jane Harman (D-Calif.). Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.) was the fastest woman in the Senate. (Then again, she was the only woman in the Senate to run.)

John Ensign (R-Nev.) finished first among the nine senators who competed. And Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Tex.) took the unenviable "dead last" prize, finishing behind even the oldest member of Congress who competed -- Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) -- who turned 76 on April 4.

The catch is that Sessions, an accomplished long-distance runner, walked this year -- on doctor's orders. Sessions, 53, had surgery in February to repair torn cartilage, perhaps from all the running he has done -- including the time he got caught, along with a few hundred other students, streaking naked across the campus of what was then called Southwest Texas State University in 1974.

The DSCC's Franken Commission

Al Franken's Senate campaign sure isn't as zany as "Daily Affirmations with Stuart Smalley," one of his signature "Saturday Night Live" skits, if a Democratic campaign video is to be believed.

The former co-star of NBC's late-night comedy show, who is seeking to oust Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) in November, delivered this week's e-mail fundraising pitch for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Along with the letter, he invited a videographer into his Minneapolis home to compile a few minutes of life with Franken.

On the video, Franken sits around the kitchen table as wife Franni bakes a "turkey wild rice hot dish" and Franken discusses his USO trips to Iraq, which prompted him to enter the race as an antiwar candidate. Looking very much ready for prime time, daughter Thomasin Franken lectures Dad about the proper Web site address so people can give campaign cash to the party committee.

These fundraising pitches are usually reserved for party luminaries such as Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (Mass.) and former presidential contender John Edwards, but Franken has a following among small donors that Democrats are looking to tap.

But Republicans contend Franken is not so "Minnesota nice." Coleman blasted Franken over allegations that he owes $70,000 in back taxes. Franken told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune this week that he finally made restitution on $25,000 he owed for workers' compensation and disability premiums for employees of his old New York-based corporation.

We're guessing Franni Franken won't be baking any hot dishes for Coleman anytime soon.

Laura Dern fans will probably agree she steals the show in "Recount," the upcoming HBO flick about the contested 2000 presidential election. And after sitting next to Dern at a private screening of the movie Tuesday night, we know who her biggest fan is: husband Ben Harper, the Grammy-winning soul/folk/funk musician, who laughed riotously at her every scene.

Dern plays Katherine Harris, who, as Florida's secretary of state, called the state's presidential election for her friend George W. Bush. Dern does a spot-on, if slightly over-the-top, Harris, who, as a congresswoman after her secretary-of-state stint, was one of the most lampooned members of the House. (Harris is on hiatus from public life after her defeat in the 2006 Senate race.)

Dern and Harper were among dozens of "Recount" actors and their real-life counterparts who turned out for Tuesday night's premiere and dinner in a backyard tent at the home of Washington Post icons and uber power couple Sally Quinn and Ben Bradlee.

Harris was not at the screening. But in attendance were Ron Klain, chief of staff for then-Vice President Al Gore, and Kevin Spacey, who stars as Klain; Bush-Cheney 2000 lawyer Ben Ginsberg and actor Bob Balaban, who was perfectly cast as Ginsberg; and Gore-Lieberman 2000 lawyer David Boies, who argued for the Democrats before the Supreme Court. Ed Begley, who plays Boies, was not there.

Pat Buchanan, who -- remember? -- was on the presidential ballot in 2000 and appears in the movie, also attended. But neither Tom Wilkinson, who plays James Baker, nor Baker himself showed up. But we hear Baker likes the movie and will be hosting a joint screening with former president Jimmy Carter. Baker and Carter served together on the post-2004 Commission on Federal Election Reform.

Veteran NBC newsman Tom Brokaw was there, too. Brokaw appears in the film as himself, in archive footage, anchoring the news on Election Day 2000 with one of the more memorable lines from that night, when the networks had to retract calling Florida for Gore: "The networks giveth and the networks taketh away."

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