As he wraps up career, Dodd’s money is in the wrong pocket

WASHINGTON-Sen. Chris Dodd’s presidential ambitions were snuffed out more than two years ago, but his campaign debt is alive and well.

The most recent report for Dodd’s otherwise moribund presidential committee, Chris Dodd for President Inc., shows that he still has about $260,000 in unpaid bills, racked up during his 2008 White House bid. So even as the Connecticut Democrat winds down his 36-year political career in Washington, he is still raising campaign money.

Meanwhile, he has more money than he’ll ever use in his Senate campaign fund–and it’s not clear if he can use one balance to pay off the other.

Dodd’s presidential account took in more than $100,000 in donations from April through June, according to the most recent Federal Elections Committee (FEC) report. About 50 donors wrote checks to Dodd’s presidential committee in that period, including a FedEx pilot from Utah, a Moody’s Investors executive from New York, and an attorney from Atlanta.

“Senator Dodd is raising money for the presidential account to pay off a few remaining obligations,” said Bryan DeAngelis, a spokesman for Dodd.

The committee spent about $124,000 on salaries, taxes, and other items, and ended June with $134,000 in the bank. But the campaign owes about two times that amount, for everything from cable and telephone bills to rent and consulting fees. For example, Dodd owes $6,000 to Home Front Communications, a D.C. video company, and $15,000 to Peter Nichols, a New Jersey consultant. (Other unsuccessful contenders, including Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani, also still have outstanding bills from the 2008 campaign.)

Dodd’s Senate campaign committee, however, is relatively flush. The most recent report, covering the 2nd quarter of this year, shows that while he has not taken in new donations in recent months, he still has nearly $1 million cash on hand, with no debts. He donated $2,000 to Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, and spent about $58,000 on general operating expenses.

A spokeswoman for the FEC, Julia Queen, said she believed Dodd could use his Senate campaign reserves to pay off his presidential debt, although the question is murky.

“There isn’t anything here that says no, but there’s nothing that says yes,” Queen said. She said that FEC regulations generally allow candidates to transfer donations forward, from an old account to a new one. It’s unusual, she added, for a campaign to try to transfer funds “backwards,” from a current account to an old one.

Although Dodd is not running for public office this cycle, Queen said, he is still free to solicit new contributions, but they must be specifically designated for debt retirement. And that’s Dodd’s plan for dealing with the final debt, DeAngelis said.

Why would anyone want to open their wallets to help a lame-duck Senator pay off two-year-old presidential campaign bills?

“Even if he’s not running for re-election again, he is still a target of influence and there are perhaps a good number of folks who understand that and aren’t afraid to put money behind it,” said Dave  Levinthal, a spokesman for the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan group that tracks campaign donations. He noted that Dodd has played a key role in the battles over health care and Wall Street reform, two of the most heavily lobbied issues taken up by this Congress.

Even if Dodd could use his Senate campaign surplus to pay off any of the presidential debt, he would still have a significant amount of money left over. And he has plenty of options for how to spend those funds. He can give it to other House and Senate candidates, to state or local party committees, or to charities. He could also hold on to it, in case he ever wants to run for office again.

DeAngelis said Dodd will likely dole out any remaining funds to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and other Connecticut Democratic candidates. “He will continue to do all he can to support Democratic candidates in Connecticut and across the country,” he said.