Obama raised cash even af­ter leav­ing Se­nate

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY JIM MCELHATTON

Pres­i­dent Obama con­tin­ued col­lect­ing money for his 2010 Se­nate re-elec­tion cam­paign even af­ter he re­signed his seat from Illi­nois, in­clud­ing a max­i­mum $2,300 do­na­tion the day af­ter Christ­mas from a top ex­ec­u­tive of a Wall Street firm that had re­ceived a gov­ern­ment bailout.

Four con­tri­bu­tions — $4,800 in all — were do­nated to the Obama 2010 fund on Dec. 26, ac­cord­ing to Fed­eral Elec­tion Com­mis­sion re­ports.

The money came from some of Mr. Obama’s top pres­i­den­tial fundrais­ers: Bruce A. Hey­man, manag­ing di­rec­tor at Gold­man Sachs, which re­ceived a $10 bil­lion bailout last year; Steven Koch, vice chair­man at Credit Suisse First Bos­ton; and John Levi, a lawyer at the law and lob­by­ing firm of Si­d­ley Austin LLP.

The do­na­tions are le­gal, but the tim­ing is un­usual be­cause Mr. Obama for­mally left the Se­nate on Nov. 16 and al­ready had a sur­plus in his Se­nate cam­paign trea­sury.

Un­der fed­eral elec­tion law, Mr. Obama and five other for­mer mem­bers of Congress now serv­ing in his Cab­i­net or the White House can re­tain con­gres­sional cam­paign funds for years, even if they don’t plan to run for Congress again. They can spend the money for any po­lit­i­cal pur­pose.

Mr. Obama’s trans­porta­tion sec­re­tary, for­mer Rep. Ray LaHood, Illi­nois Repub­li­can, has given $60,000 of his leftover funds to help re­duce the cam­paign debt of his son’s failed run for state of­fice. White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, a Demo­crat who rep­re­sented Illi­nois in the House, is one of three ad­min­is­tra­tion fig­ures with at least $1 mil­lion left over in their con­gres­sional cam­paign funds, FEC records show.

“Other than con­vert­ing the money to per­sonal use, which is the one thing they can’t do, th­ese cam­paigns can ba­si­cally op­er­ate as po­lit­i­cal slush funds,” said Mered­ith McGe­hee, pol­icy di­rec­tor at the non­par­ti­san Cam­paign Le­gal Cen­ter.

“As much as peo­ple talk about change in Wash­ing­ton, and we’re see­ing plenty of it, money still talks. And one of the ways you re­main a po­lit­i­cal player is to make sure you still have money in your po­lit­i­cal ac­count,” she said.

A for­mer Obama cam­paign aide said the late-De­cem­ber do­na­tions col­lected for Mr. Obama’s Se­nate cam­paign were so­licited “by a fundraiser who worked for the cam­paign to cover out­stand­ing ex­penses that needed to be paid to wind down the cam­paign com­mit­tee.”

At the time, Mr. Obama’s Se­nate cam­paign re­ported more than $100,000 in cash on hand, and his sep­a­rately run pres­i­den­tial cam­paign fund was flush with $15.4 mil­lion in the bank.

Among the Christ­mas­time con­tri­bu­tions, $1,000 came from Mr. Koch, the vice chair­man at Credit Suisse, who, like Mr. Hey­man, raised at least $200,000 for Mr. Obama’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, ac­cord­ing to data com­piled by the watch­dog group Pub­lic Ci­ti­zen.

Phone calls to Mr. Hey­man and Mr. Koch placed through their offices were not re­turned, and a Gold­man Sachs spokes­woman de­clined to com­ment. John Levi, who gave $500, is a lawyer at the Chicago law firm of Si­d­ley Austin, where Mr. Obama met his wife, Michelle, in 1989 while he was work­ing as a sum­mer as­so­ciate and she was an as­so­ciate at the firm.

Mr. Levi said he wasn’t au­tho­rized to dis­cuss the mat­ter and de­clined to com­ment.

The Obama ap­pointees are hardly the first for­mer mem­bers of Congress whose fundrais­ing com­mit­tees re­mained open af­ter they took ex­ec­u­tive branch jobs. For­mer At­tor­ney Gen­eral John Ashcroft’s old Se­nate cam­paign fund re­mained ac­tive for years af­ter he joined Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush’s Cab­i­net, as did the cam­paign fund for for­mer Sen. Spencer Abra­ham, Michi­gan Repub­li­can, who was Mr. Bush’s first sec­re­tary of en­ergy.

Such dor­mant con­gres­sional cam­paigns still can raise and spend money in a va­ri­ety of ways. They can keep old do­na­tions in the bank, pay down debts or give the money to other politi­cians. They also can do­nate it to char­ity or re­turn con­tri­bu­tions to donors.

Mr. LaHood re­cently ter­mi­nated his cam­paign fund, but not be­fore tap­ping into his left- over money to help his son’s po­lit­i­cal ca­reer.

On. Nov. 15, Mr. LaHood’s cam­paign trans­ferred $60,000 to Friends of Darin LaHood, his son’s cam­paign fund. Just 11 days ear­lier, Darin LaHood lost his bid to be­come state at­tor­ney in Peo­ria, Ill.

This fa­ther-to-son cam­paign trans­fer would vi­o­late cam­paign fi­nance laws in fed­eral cam­paigns and in most state elec­tions. But since Illi­nois has no cap on state-level do­na­tions, the trans­fer was le­gal, said David Mor­ri­son, deputy di­rec­tor of the Illi­nois Cam­paign for Po­lit­i­cal Re­form, which ad­vo­cates con­tri­bu­tion lim­its.

“While ev­ery­thing is le­gal, when peo­ple do­nate to their sons or daugh­ters, we’ve al­ways found that to be a re­ally ques­tion­able prac­tice,” said Me­lanie Sloan, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the non­par­ti­san Cit­i­zens for Re­spon­si­bil­ity and Ethics in Wash­ing­ton. “Donors to Ray LaHood prob­a­bly didn’t think the money was go­ing to go to his son.”

Af­ter Mr. LaHood was named trans­porta­tion sec­re­tary, his com­mit­tee filed pa­pers ter­mi­nat­ing his House cam­paign with the Fed­eral Elec­tion Com­mis­sion. Through a spokes­woman, Mr. LaHood de­clined to com­ment about the trans­fer.

Three top Obama ap­pointees have cam­paign ac­counts with more than $1 mil­lion each:

c Mr. Emanuel has two open ac­counts. His prin­ci­pal cam­paign com­mit­tee, Friends of Rahm Emanuel, had more than $1.7 mil­lion in the bank at the end of last year.

Mr. Emanuel’s lead­er­ship com­mit­tee, Our Com­mon Val­ues, raised more than $1 mil­lion in do­na­tions in 2007 and 2008, with the money go­ing al­most en­tirely to Democrats. The com­mit­tee now has less than $15,000 in the bank, ac­cord­ing to records.

For­mer Sen. Ken Salazar, Colorado Demo­crat, re­ported $2 mil­lion in his cam­paign bank be­fore he be­came Mr. Obama’s sec­re­tary of the in­te­rior.

Sec­re­tary of State Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton’s cam­paign fund for her Se­nate seat from New York has more than $5.3 mil­lion in the bank, but her pres­i­den­tial cam­paign com­mit­tee re­mained nearly $6 mil­lion in debt at the end of 2008. The big­gest debt is owed to Penn, Schoen & Ber­lan As­so­ci­ates, headed by Mrs. Clin­ton’s for­mer cam­paign strate­gist, Mark Penn.

La­bor Sec­re­tary Hilda L. So­lis, a Demo­crat who left her House seat from Cal­i­for­nia for a Cab­i­net post in the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, re­ported more than a quar­ter-mil­lion dol­lars left in her cam­paign fund at the end of the year.

For­mer mem­bers of Congress are un­der no dead­lines to de­cide what to do with the money.

“There’s no re­stric­tions in terms of how long ex­cess cam­paign funds can re­main in a cam­paign ac­count,” said cam­paign fi­nance lawyer Michael Toner, a for­mer Fed­eral Elec­tion Com­mis­sion chair­man who was ap­pointed by Mr. Bush in 2002.

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