Michael Steele's leftover money: He's not the only one
The allegations against RNC chairman Michael S. Steele from his former campaign finance chairman (who is serving a prison term for fraud) draw attention to a little discussed question: What happens to campaign funds left over when a race concludes?
Part of the charges stem from money in Michael Steele’s state campaign account that was raised largely by supporters of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. In Maryland, governors and lieutenant governors run as a ticket, and it is common for each candidate to have his or her own account. That way, top donors can give the maximum $4,000 contribution to each – effectively doubling the amount of help they can provide the ticket.
When Steele decided to break up the team and run for U.S. Senate, the roughly $600,000 in his state account was put on ice. Federal and state campaign finance rules are very different, and money raised for a state account is not easily shifted into a federal race. While some Ehrlich backers may have wanted Steele to find a way to get the money back into the governor’s race, Steele didn’t do so.
One of the allegations from former Steele chairman Alan B. Fabian – first reported by the Washington Post last week – was that Steele broke some rules in taking control of the money, because he did not have “signatory authority” even though the money was transferred from one bank account to another. Steele’s control of the money caused some tension among Ehrlich allies, the Post reported.
What started out as $626,000 in the Michael Steele for Maryland Committee in 2007 has shrunk to $367,000 at the beginning of the year. The decline includes more than $112,000 in transfers to other accounts last December, a Christmas gift of sorts to Republicans in the Maryland General Assembly. Steele gave $2,000 to each Republican elected state official, putting his money where his mouth was as chairman of GOPAC, which recruits state-level Republican candidates.
That was smart politics for Steele, particularly in hindsight. Now that he’s RNC chairman, there’s virtually no chance he will run for Maryland governor in 2010. So he doesn’t need the state fund for himself. Why not spread some money within his home state, building support among those who may have been troubled that he was casting his eye on a national stage and forgetting the little people he left behind?
As the Baltimore Sun’s Michael Dresser has discovered, Steele isn’t the only former elected official with leftover campaign money. Dresser has found thousands more tucked away in dormant accounts. To read more about them, follow this link.
For some Maryland politicians, the campaign kitty lives on long after the career in public life is seemingly over.
Former Gov. Parris N. Glendening, former Montgomery County Executive and gubernatorial hopeful Douglas M. Duncan, and federal prisoner and former state Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell are among the political luminaries who have kept "zombie" campaign accounts open long after leaving the political arena.
In some cases, the former elected officials keep their political committees active with little money to show for the effort in spite of the hassle of preparing and filing periodic reports with the State Board of Elections. In others, the for-now-retired politicos are sitting on substantial sums with which to fund a potential comeback.
Most notable in the latter category is Duncan, who cut short his 2006 Democratic primary race against Martin O’Malley to seek treatment for depression. Though out of politics, his Jan. 21 campaign finance report shows that he’s still sitting on $331,545 he could put toward a future race for state or county office.
Less prepared to make a comeback is Glendening, who has shown no inclination to re-enter elective politics after ending two terms as governor in 2003. Yet the former chief executive has faithfully filed reports on his dwindling political war chest ever since. His 2009 annual report shows $7,931 in his account, with his largest expenditure being the $250 he gave the Democrats representing the 21st Legislative District.
Other politicians have been less diligent about filing their reports on time. Former Gov. William Donald Schaefer’s campaign treasurer, for instance, had not filed his report due Jan. 21 as of today, but last year’s report showed that he had donated the last remaining funds to charity. With the former governor and comptroller firmly ensconced in retirement, the fact his account technically remains open could be put down as an oversight.
Bromwell, has $34,131, the same amount as last year.
The failure to meet campaign filing deadliens carries a fine of $30, which could go could increase with further delays. In arrears is a former statewide Republican candidate, 2006 GOP attorney general nominee Scott Rolle. Since his defeat by Democrat Douglas Gansler, election board records show, the former Frederick County state’s attorney has failed to file six reports by their due dates and is now on the hook for $1,280 in fines for a campaign account that was down to $2,036 the last time Rolle did report.
Other politicians who continue to maintain accounts though they have been out of the political arena since 2006 include former Baltimore County Sen. Paula C. Hollinger, who’s sitting on $57,457 after an unsuccessful congressional race that year; retired Montgomery County state Sen. P. J. Hogan, $37,834; retired Baltimore state Sen. Ralph M. Hughes, $25,800; defeated Montgomery County Sen. Ida Ruben, $13,876; and defeated Howard County state Sen. Sandy Schrader, $9,202.
Former Montgomery County Del. Cheryl Kagan has $44,224 in the bank even though she hasn’t been listed on a ballot since 1998. She's long pondered a state Senate run. Former House Minority Leader Al Redmer Jr., is still holding on to $15,911.00 though he last faced the voters in 2002. Redmer has considered running for Baltimore County executive.
Also maintaining an active campaign account is former Anne Arundel County executive and 2006 comptroller candidate Janet Owens. In her case, however, the outstanding issue appears to be a stubborn $130,000 in debt rather than the paltry $2,036 she has in cash.
Politicians who wish to close out their campaign accounts are not permitted to convert the money to personal use. However, they have several options to spend down the remaining sums. They include giving the money to charity, donating it to like-minded candidates and party committees, contributing it to Maryland colleges or boards of education or returning it to contributors.
-- Michael Dresser