Former lawmakers sit on piles of cash

Former members of Congress are sitting on huge campaign war chests, with one ex-senator topping $10 million in his account.

Democratic and Republican campaign committees salivate at such idle money and have prodded former legislators to donate some of it to them.

Even after they leave office, ex-lawmakers who have leftover campaign cash still have to file reports with the Federal Election Commission.

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Campaign finance expert Meredith McGehee, who is with the Campaign Legal Center, said, “This is the way you play the game in Washington, and if you have money, you can remain influential.”

Former members-turned-lobbyists such as Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), Michael Castle (R-Del.), Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) and Rick Boucher (D-Va.) all have significant amounts of cash in their accounts.

Bayh, a two-term senator and two-term governor of Indiana, has the most by far— more than $10 million cash on hand.

The McGuireWoods partner and Fox News contributor said he opted to hold on to the cash, instead of creating a foundation or donating it all to charity.

“I retired from the Senate at age 55. While I have no plans to run for public office, I really don’t know what the long-term future has in store,” Bayh explained.

Should a political opportunity arise for Bayh, the $10 million would come in handy. Bayh has been mentioned as a possible presidential candidate and was on President Obama’s shortlist for vice president in 2008.

Since exiting the Senate in 2011, Bayh has contributed to a number of his former colleagues including Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.). He has donated money to Rep. Joe Donnelly — Indiana’s Democratic Senate nominee, as well as other Hoosier State congressional hopefuls.

“The vast majority of contributions I make are Indiana-centric or to my friends and former colleagues in the Senate who I care a good deal about,” Bayh said.

The centrist Democrat notes that his role as a Fox News Channel contributor has not affected his decisions on whether to make political donations.

“[Fox News Channel has] placed no restrictions on me at all,” Bayh said, joking, “I suspect I’m probably the most prolific Democratic contributor at the network, but they have no problems with my supporting Democrats.”

GOP strategist Ron Bonjean said campaign committees crave the cash held by former lawmakers.

“If you are at one of the campaign committees, you are going to be knocking on their doors and rolling out the red carpet, asking them to cut a check either to them or to candidates,” Bonjean, the Republican partner of Singer Bonjean Strategies told The Hill.

He noted that the ex-lawmakers use their money as a means of maintaining “political capital.”

“The world is their oyster when it comes to campaign contributions … the key for them is to preserve that capital because it preserves their political prowess,” Bonjean said, noting that it is rare for former lawmakers cut a check for the entire amount of their remaining account to the campaign committees.

Centrist former Rep. Mike Castle, who lost his bid to be the GOP Senate nominee in Delaware to Christine O’Donnell in 2010, said that he held on to nearly $1 million out of respect for his financial backers.

And the DLA Piper partner has doled out money from that pot, including a $10,000 donation to the United Way of Delaware.

“I contribute to Republican candidates who I feel are mostly in simpatico with where I was politically so that the money would be going to elect candidates who the people who supported me, I feel, would support,” Castle explained, noting that he may not agree ideologically with some of those recipients.

According to the most recent filings, Castle gave money to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Castle, 73, said he is not planning on launching another political bid.

McGehee said, “[Former lawmakers] are political animals. They want to be influential. They have this money at their disposal. They can continue to kind of be political actors and it's all pretty much permitted by law.”

She noted that before the law was changed, ex-members could legally pocket any leftover cash in their campaign accounts.