Senators and House Members Can Keep Campaign Funds on the Way Out

When the late Sen. Ted Kennedy passed away, he left behind a $4.5 million campaign war chest. The official treasurer of the campaign has the power to decide where that money goes, according to the F.E.C. Up to $2,000 per election can be donated to other politicial campaigns.

Kennedy's widow, Vicki, could direct the treasurer to carve off money for any number of charities, such as the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate, a think tank organized in Kennedy's later years, or to the JFK presidential library.

Elected officials, of course, have been known to steer money toward pet charities and causes whether they are leaving office or not. For example, the current ethics probe into the finances of Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., includes an allegation that he not so subtly used congressional letterhead to raise money for the City College of New York's Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service.

Family Affairs

It's common for elected officials to create nonprofit foundations. In 2002 Bayh created, along with his wife, The Evan and Susan Bayh Foundation. Over the years, it has donated money to a variety of causes, including college scholarships.

Calls to Sen. Bayh's office in Washington went straight to a voice mail message recorded by Bayh himself. Efforts to contact his staffers were unsuccessful.

It would be legal for an outgoing lawmaker's campaign committee to donate leftover campaign money to a family foundation, as long as it is a bona fide charitable organization set up under Internal Revenue Service rules, according to two separate F.E.C. advisory opinions issued over the years. But the funds may not be converted thereafter for personal use.

After Sen. Bayh made his announcement, he told CNN's Wolf Blitzer he intended to use his unspent campaign millions to help support other Democratic candidates -- though considering the $2,000-per-election federal limit, he would have to support a lot of candidates if he wanted to put the $13 million to full use. Bayh's PAC, called "All America PAC," is the largest of its kind, with nearly half a million bucks in it, money he can legally keep.

PAC Men

The outgoing House member with the biggest PAC is Steve Buyer, R-Ind. Buyer, who announced in January he is not running for another term. He has around $40,000 remaining in his "Storm Chasers PAC." A spokeswoman for Rep. Buyer directed calls to the campaign committee treasurer, who did not return calls.

Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., is not only on his way out of office but he is leading the charge to reform Wall Street -- which has unleashed an army of deep-pocketed lobbying groups in response.

But his "CHRIS PAC" would hardly appear to be a slush fund; it had only $38, 842 as of Dodd's last F.E.C. filing on February 8. Dodd has about $3 million in campaign committee funds on hand.

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