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Retiring pol + unused campaign cash = power, access, influence

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On Jan. 1, Federal Election Commission records show, Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds (R-N.Y.) had $862,809.75 in his campaign operation, Reynolds For Congress.

From Jan. 1 to March 31, FEC records show, he raised $271,851.79. Allowing for spending by his campaign ($123,825.39), Rep. Reynolds finished the first quarter with $1,010,835.55. That’s a nice piece of change for a Republican incumbent to take on any challengers, eh?

But on March 20, Rep. Reynolds became the 29th Republican in the 110th Congress to announce his or her intended departure (or actually leave) the House, saying:

While there is always more to do, elected officials are only temporary stewards of the people’s trust. That’s why today I am announcing that I will not seek and be a candidate for reelection.

Now that Rep. Reynolds won’t be a steward of the public’s trust, what kind of a steward will he be of the million bucks of other people’s money tucked away in his campaign fund?

According to Doug Turner of the Buffalo News, Rep. Reynolds ain’t saying.

Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds isn’t saying what he is going to do with the money. No law, or even custom, requires him to do so.

The Clarence Republican was raising cash frantically almost to the moment [four] weeks ago when he declined a run for a sixth House term, and a third emotionally expensive election campaign. [emphasis added]

Mr. Turner’s math shows Rep. Reynolds better off than mine does: Rep. Reynolds “lists $844,000 in a political action committee he controls, and $863,000 in his personal campaign account.”

You remember Rep. Reynolds: He’s one of the members of the “Republican leadership” who danced and dithered on responsibility for the congressional page affair involving former Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.). Perhaps that’s why Rep. Reynolds is not running for re-election.

But Rep. Reynolds continues to raise money as a sitting representative in Congress — even though he has no intention of running to hold his seat. His Reynolds for Congress Web site is still alive, and aside from an e-mail sign-up link, the site has only one other active link — DONATE NOW.

Well, why would donors contribute to shell out for a member of Congress who says he’s quitting? Easy answer: Rep. Reynolds is the sole New York Republican member of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, the oldest standing committee in Congress. Sitting there, he continues to wield enormous influence over what taxpayer money goes where.

He’s still doing what members of the House do — bringing home the bacon. A reading of the headlines of his House Web site’s news page shows that Rep. Reynolds, in the first quarter of this year, has announced just over $1.9 million in federal monies for his District 26.

According to a Taxpayers for Common Sense report, Rep. Reynolds has inserted more than $9 million in earmarks in the fiscal 2008 federal budget. His solo earmarks and those with other members total more than $23 million. That’s influence.

As long as Rep. Reynolds holds office, and as long as he’s perceived as having access and influence while in office, and as long as he is perceived as able to retain access and influence after leaving office, donors will continue to sidle up to him with bags of cash.

Rep. Reynolds — and the other House retirees — have kingmaker (and queenmaker) money. Writes Mr. Turner:

The 2008 retirees’ political accounts are worth tens of millions. They aspire to join hundreds of former members and former congressional staffers who lobby legislators and the president.

They and their cash form a new cast iron ring of power separating voters from what is advertised as the people’s government. It’s the reason the Republican administration and the Democratic Congress are far more interested in saving banks and builders than homeowners facing foreclosure.

It is all legal, and bipartisan. Just before leaving in 2001, for example, Democratic President Bill Clinton relaxed rules barring former administration officials from lobbying their former agencies.

This most powerful branch of government is also helped by agencies that are supposed to look at the way these old campaign funds are spent and almost never do.

Rep. Reynolds, once the chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee who braced incumbents wavering about standing for re-election, will remain a powerful, but out-of-office, politician.

It’s The American Way, isn’t it?

photo credit:
Rep. Reynolds addressing media during Foley scandal: Harry Scull Jr., The Buffalo News

xpost: Scholars & Rogues

Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

April 20, 2008 at 3:44 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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