By Dwight L. Morris
January 7, 1997
Retiring members of Congress may no longer have much use for the millions of dollars remaining in their campaign warchests, but few seem predisposed to return that money to the contributors who helped put them in office. Since they can no longer legally pocket the excess cash as an auxiliary retirement fund (something retiring House members could do as recently as four years ago), many retirees look for ways to donate their leftover funds to other candidates, party organizations, and various causes.
Outgoing members can use their campaign cash to help retire colleagues' debts, give to charity or even create their own charitable foundations or political action committees. And while there's no obligation to sweep the coffers clean before leaving office, the former members have little incentive to hold onto the cash. Here's a look at what a handful of retirees elected to do with their money.
Sen. Howell Heflin (D-Ala.)
Sen. Howell Heflin (D-Ala.) announced in March 1995 that he would not seek re-election, and by the end of the year he was busily giving his money away. Between Nov. 22, 1995 and Jan. 18, 1996, Heflin donated $421,949 to Scholarship Foundation Inc. But though the payments were addressed to P.O. Box 1996 in Tuscumbria, Ala., a call to directory assistance found no listing under that name. As of June 30, 1996 the most recent report available on retiring members Heflin's campaign coffers still held $619,193.
Sen. Paul Simon (D-Ill.)
With the dissolution of his campaign treasury, Illinois Sen. Paul Simon chose to promote education in a different way than he had on the Senate floor, donating more than $100,000 to several educational institutions. Before joining the faculty at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Simon's campaign donated $100,000 to his alma mater, Dana College in Blair, Neb. In addition, Simon sent a $25,000 check to Barat College in Lake Forest, Ill., and $10,000 more to the Israel Arts & Science Academy in Chicago.
Education appears to be only one of the causes benefiting from Simon's campaign treasury. According to our analysis of campaign spending reports filed with the Federal Election Commission, Simon did his part for world peace by sending a $10,000 check from his campaign to the Carter Center in Atlanta. And while the United States has balked at paying the United Nations several hundred million dollars in back dues, Simon sent a $5,000 check to the United Nations Association. He shared the wealth with other social causes as well, sending $5,000 checks to the Barbara Bush Foundation, the Armenian General Benevolence Association, the NAACP.
On the Senate front, Simon donated $2,000 apiece to fellow Democratic Sens. Carol Moseley-Braun (Ill.) and Paul Wellstone (Minn.), and to Rep. Richard Durbin, who ultimately succeeded him. Simon also appeared eager to resolve his own debts; FEC documents show that through June 30, 1996, Simon had transferred $175,439 into his 1988 presidential campaign committee coffers to pay off debts remaining from that unsuccessful bid.
Following his retirement announcement, Simon also fired off checks to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee ($5,000), the Democratic National Committee ($2,500), the Women Employed Institute ($2,000), the Carbondale public library ($1,000), the public library in Troy, Ill. ($1,000), and the Womenís Bar Association ($1,000), among others.
Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.)
Like Simon, Georgia Sen. Sam Nunn took up the cause of education in retirement as well. Following his October 1995 announcement that he would not seek re-election, Nunn sent $50,000 of his excess campaign funds to the Houston County Board of Education in his hometown of Perry, Ga. His alma mater, Emory University in Atlanta, received two checks totaling $45,000. And in the end, Nunn remembered his party as well: the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee received $20,000 of his campaign largess.
Rep. James Quillen (R-Tenn.)
For Rep. James Quillen (R-Tenn.), education and health care became major focuses when it came time to donate campaign funds. Back in 1994 when he wasn't sure whether he would seek re-election, Quillen began showering Tennessee colleges and charities with money early in the year. He gave $250,000 of his excess campaign funds to the Holston Valley Hospital and Medical Center Foundation in Kingsport, Tenn. Another $200,000 went to the Holston Home for Children in Greenville. He donated $157,000 to the East Tennessee State University Foundation, $100,000 to Milligan College, $100,000 to the Johnson City Medical Center, and $50,000 to the King College Foundation. When Quillen changed his mind about retiring, he didnít miss the money at all, cruising to victory with 73 percent of the vote.
When Quillen decided to retire in 1996, he took out his campaign checkbook once again. In July 1995, the campaign sent a $25,000 check to East Tennessee State University. Two months later, he gave $50,000 to Tusculum College in Greenville. In November, he gave King College $50,000. On April 25, 1996 the campaign sent a $100,000 check to the Bristol Regional Medical Center Foundation, and the next day, a campaign check for $50,000 was fired off to Milligan College.
None of this is new, nor is it illegal. Some might argue that the money is being spent more wisely in retirement than it was in seeking office.
Rep. Charlie Wilson (D-Texas)
Of course not all the excess money has been spent on such philanthropic endeavors, as retiring Rep. Charlie Wilson (D-Texas) can attest. Wilson agreed to pay a $90,000 fine to the FEC for failing to disclose a number of financial transactions, including both loans made to his campaign and cash advances to him from his campaign. In resolving the dispute, Wilson also tapped his warchest to pay for thousands of dollars in legal fees to Washington, D.C. firms Brand & Lowell and Davis, Wright & Tremaine.
This column originally appeared on the PoliticsNow Web site.
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