Bayh sends $1 million to Ellsworth

Retiring Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) has donated $1 million to help elect Rep. Brad Ellsworth, who is running to succeed him.

Bayh, who announced in February he won’t run for reelection this fall after amassing a $13 million reelection fund, described the donation as an attempt to help Ellsworth (D) win his seat.

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“This is a million-dollar vote of confidence in Brad Ellsworth and Indiana Democrats,” Bayh said in a statement released by the Indiana Democratic Party.

“Though I am leaving the Senate at the end of my term, I am determined to help Brad Ellsworth and the 2010 Democratic ticket with the financial resources they need to run a successful campaign.”

Bayh is actually sending the $1 million to the Indiana Democratic Party (IDP), which will spend the money on Ellsworth’s behalf.

The Indiana Democratic Party called the donation “the largest by an individual not on the ballot,” and Meredith McGehee, policy director of the Campaign Legal Center, likewise said she could not point to a larger contribution in recent memory.

“A million-dollar donation is pretty impressive and seems pretty unprecedented,” McGehee said. “Usually you see maybe one to a party in the tens of thousands, but certainly a million dollars is eye-popping.”

McGehee said there are very few federal campaign finance rules that govern how a retiring congressman's campaign funds can be spent. Most recently, she said the Federal Election Commission focused in the 1990s on how such funds can legally be converted to personal use.

“Otherwise, the rest is up to the former member,” she said. “In some cases there's been a member who's turned into lobbyist and they were able to use it to make contributions, or they decide to run for another office. There are very few restrictions.”

Ellsworth just cast one of the most difficult votes of his career in voting for the healthcare bill ultimately approved by the House on Sunday night.

Indiana is seen as a swing state; before President Barack Obama carried it in 2008, Lyndon Johnson was the last Democrat to carry Indiana on the presidential ballot.

Ellsworth, elected in 2006, represents Indiana’s 8th district, which covers the western and southwestern parts of the state.

The Hill’s Ballot Box scores Bayh’s seat as a toss-up in 2010.

Ellsworth received encouraging news earlier this month when a poll by the liberal Daily Kos website found him trailing former GOP Sen. Dan Coats by a single percentage point.

Democrats avoided a tough nominating contest when Rep. Baron Hill (D-Ind.) decided to step aside so that Ellsworth could run for the party’s nomination uncontested. A key factor for Ellsworth will be raising enough money to compete, increasing the importance of Bayh’s contribution.

Democrats have been watching Bayh and his $13 million war chest carefully since he announced he would not seek another Senate term. There have been some grumblings that Bayh has not been quick enough in donating money to Democrats facing a challenging electoral climate in the fall.

Some believe Bayh has an interest in running for the presidency and would like to hold on to his donations for a future campaign, though Bayh has said in interviews that he has no interest in running for the Oval Office.

In an interview with The Hill this month, Bayh had said he wasn’t sure how he would distribute his campaign account, but did say he would give only to Democrats and might donate funds to Democrats outside of Indiana, such as to Sen. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas.

In the IDP statement, Bayh praised Ellsworth’s independence and centrism — two traits he said were lacking in the Senate.

“I believe in Brad’s commitment to breaking the gridlock in the United States Senate and making a positive difference in the lives of Hoosiers,” Bayh said. “Brad is an independent voice and a fiscal conservative who will bring common-sense Hoosier values to his work in the Senate. He will make sure the Senate stays focused on progress, not politics.”