By Russell Berman - 10/23/11 08:01 PM EDT
The disgraced lawmakers might be gone, but their campaigns live on.
The handful of members of Congress who have resigned amid scandal in recent years have maintained active campaign accounts, federal records show, and they have spent tens of thousands of dollars in political contributions on legal fees, travel, public relations consultants and, in at least one case, the salary of a family member.
Former Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) spent more than $130,000 in campaign funds in the three months after he resigned from the House on June 24, according to new filings with the Federal Election Commission. That total was more than what all but three of the 11 sitting members of New York City’s House delegation spent during that time.
Weiner stepped down after admitting he had repeatedly lied about sending lewd photos and messages to women on social networking websites. His campaign reported refunding $15,000 in contributions during the third quarter, and ended the filing period with nearly $92,000 cash on hand.
“Most of the expenditures, including the travel to Washington, are associated with the winding down of Anthony’s campaign,” said Risa Heller, a Weiner spokeswoman whose firm is being paid by the campaign. “I remain on the payroll to field the regular calls, like this one, that continue to come in related to his service in Congress.”
The FEC filings indicate that Weiner received a handful of contributions as his scandal peaked in mid-June. One of them came from actor Mike Myers of “Austin Powers” fame, who gave him the maximum donation of $5,000 — $2,500 for his primary campaign and $2,500 for the general election.
The donation is dated by the campaign as received on June 14, just two days before Weiner announced in a televised news conference that he would resign. Myers’s publicist, Ina Treciokas, told The Hill that the check was cut weeks earlier — “way before any of [the scandal] had been reported.” The check is dated May 23 — days before the scandal erupted, according to an image of the check that Treciokas forwarded to The Hill.
Weiner is just the latest example of a member of Congress whose campaign committee remains active months or even years after he/she has left office. Federal law allows candidate committees to cover expenses related to an ex-member’s time in office, but forbids the personal use of campaign funds.
Former Rep. Eric Massa (D-N.Y.), who resigned in March 2010 under allegations of sexual harassment and groping, spent nearly $12,000 during the past three months. Massa has kept his wife, Beverly, on his campaign payroll for the 18 months since he left office, paying her more than $5,000 from July through September to serve as the campaign committee’s treasurer.
The bulk of Massa’s campaign expenses in recent months have gone to three separate law firms representing him in investigations related to his resignation from Congress. The Department of Justice, the FEC and the House Ethics Committee all launched inquiries into Massa’s activities, and the former congressman is suing his former chief of staff, Joseph Racalto, over accusations that he stole more than $40,000 in campaign funds just before Massa resigned.
“Actually, the campaign committee has been quite busy for the last year-and-a-half,” one of Massa’s lawyers, James Doyle, told The Hill. He characterized having Beverly Massa serve as a campaign treasurer as a “savings,” saying her salary is less expensive than the cost of hiring a law or accounting firm.
Doyle said he had no indication that the Justice Department investigation was ongoing, and that the FEC’s inquiry appeared to be winding down. The House Ethics Committee reopened its investigation over the summer after it went dormant during the transition from a Democratic to Republican majority.
Doyle noted that most of Massa’s campaign contributions for the general election in 2010 were refunded.
Former Rep. Chris Lee (R-N.Y.) resigned in February following revelations that he sent shirtless photos of himself to a woman over Craigslist. His campaign reported spending slightly more than $1,100 in the third quarter, but it received $2,750 in the form of returned contributions from the New York State Republican Committee.
As it sought to wind down its operations, the Lee campaign tried to get rid of its funds by refunding donations and making contributions to county Republican committees and the state party. But the state party returned the money, said Tony Casale, a spokesman for the New York State Republican Committee.
Former Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) has spent tens of thousands of dollars in campaign funds on legal fees since he resigned his seat in April following the disclosure that he had an affair with the wife of one of his top aides.
The spending of political contributions on legal fees and even consultants after a lawmaker has resigned in scandal might be “unpalatable to the public,” but it is generally legal, said Lisa Gilbert, deputy director of Congress Watch at the watchdog group Public Citizen. “The only bright line that exists is that it [the money must be] connected to the time in office,” she said.
Lingering campaign accounts are not limited to former members of Congress. A litany of former presidential candidates have active committees, including Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton (D) and former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani (R), who have struggled to pay off campaign debts, as well as former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.), the indicted 2004 vice presidential nominee who has a mountain of legal expenses to pay.
Campaign accounts can stay open for years, or even decades. Ex-Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.), infamous for the inappropriate online exchanges he had with House pages, still has more than $1.2 million in his federal campaign account, nearly five years after he resigned.
And a recent search of the FEC database found an open account for another famous Foley: Former Speaker Tom Foley (D-Wash.), 82, whose 30-year House career ended in defeat in 1994. Foley’s wife, Heather, has dutifully filed a campaign finance report to the FEC every three months for the last 17 years, most recently in July. That report showed Foley’s account had $35,886.49.
UPDATED on Oct. 24 at 3:45 p.m. — Clarification: A $5,000 check from the actor Mike Myers to former Rep. Anthony Weiner's (D-N.Y.) campaign was dated May 23, according to an image of the check sent to The Hill by Myers's publicist, Ina Treciokas, after this article was published. In filings submitted to the FEC, Weiner's campaign listed the date of receipt as June 14.