WASHINGTON – Phil Gramm, the soon-to-be an investment banker, will still have a considerable political war chest after he leaves the Senate.
He's creating a political action committee that could keep him active in future elections. Other retiring members of Congress are weighing a range of options for their leftover campaign treasuries, from turning them over to political parties to making lots of small donations to candidates across the country.
"We would be more than happy to accept their money,'' Texas GOP spokesman Ted Royer said of Gramm and House Majority Leader Dick Armey, two Texas Republicans who are retiring this year.
Departing members of Congress used to be allowed to keep their campaign money for personal use. That practice was forbidden years ago, but lawmakers still may spend the money in several ways; for example, they may help other candidates or the party, wind down their own congressional operations, pay campaign debts or donate to charities.
Former Oklahoma Sen. David Boren, a Democrat who left the Senate in 1994 to become president of the University of Oklahoma, gave $22,000 of his leftover campaign money to the university's OU Foundation. Florida Democratic Rep. Dante Fascell gave $100,000 of his campaign money to the University of Miami after he retired in 1992.
Some legislators-turned-lobbyists have even doled out their campaign reserves to lawmakers they were lobbying. No new lobbyists have turned up yet in the current crop of retiring lawmakers; they must wait a year before lobbying their former colleagues.
Still, a watchful eye is being kept on the fate of some of the leftover cash.
Democratic Sen. Robert Torricelli had roughly $5 million on hand when he decided last week to drop out of New Jersey's Senate race and was replaced on the ballot by former Democratic Sen. Frank Lautenberg. Torricelli was consulting with his attorneys Monday on the options for spending his campaign money, but he intends "to be as helpful as possible to Frank Lautenberg,'' Torricelli spokeswoman Debra DeShong said.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee filed a complaint Monday with the Federal Election Commission asking it to bar Torricelli from transferring his campaign funds to the Democratic Party or Lautenberg. It contends that because Torricelli is no longer a candidate he must refund any contributions he received for next month's election.
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee says it's perfectly legal for Torricelli to give any remaining campaign money to the party.
"As we are going about our last month of fund-raising, having a large contribution would be much appreciated,'' DSCC spokeswoman Tovah Ravitz-Meehan said.
Torricelli isn't the only departing lawmaker with plenty of campaign cash left.
Gramm had roughly $2.4 million remaining in his campaign fund as of midsummer, when his latest campaign finance report was filed. He has been refunding 2002 election contributions to any donors who request it, and plans to put the rest into a PAC.
Gramm, who announced Monday he will become an investment banker and vice chairman of UBS Warburg when he leaves the Senate at the end of the session, may keep a hand in politics too.
"He has been distributing money to key races around the country ... and will continue to do that if there's money left after this cycle, which I imagine there will be,'' spokesman Don Stewart said.
Armey hasn't decided what to do with his leftover money, spokeswoman Jaylene Farry said. Armey's campaign had about $338,000 left as of midsummer, compared with about $172,000 for his federal PAC.
"Right now he's still focused on making donations to Republican candidates across the country and to the state parties,'' Farry said. Armey's contributions this year also include $10,000 to Texans Against Gerrymandering, a Republican group that focused on redistricting.
Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., also hasn't decided the fate of his campaign fund, which stood at $653,785 at midsummer.
Some of the retirees find themselves with little campaign cash to spare.
Michigan Rep. Lynn Rivers lost a costly primary to fellow Democratic Rep. John Dingell and said she expects to have just enough left to hire a part-time employee to close her offices.
Rep. Bob Barr, R-Ga., also lost an expensive primary.
"I wish we had a quarter of a million dollars, but we don't,'' spokesman Jonathan Blyth said. "We're going to break even.''