Burnishing his legacy, Lieberman to leave his official papers to Library of Congress

Washington — Former Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman is spending his leftover campaign cash on efforts to preserve his legacy, including the organization of 1,500 boxes of personal and professional papers he has donated to the Library of Congress.

Lieberman, who retired at the beginning of the year, has transferred nearly half a million dollars from his old Senate campaign account and his leadership PAC to a new scholarship fund that bears his name, the Joe Lieberman Connecticut Scholarship Fund. In June the fund gave out its first scholarships, each for $1,500, to five Connecticut high school students.

Records filed with the Federal Election Commission also show that Lieberman spent tens of thousands of dollars to organize his personal and professional papers as well as a large number of personal and staff emails. The collection spans his long political career, including his years in the Connecticut State Senate (1970-1981), as Connecticut’s attorney general (1983-1989), as a four-term member of the U.S. Senate (1989-2013) and as the first Jewish nominee for vice president.

That collection went to the Library of Congress, as did a number of video interviews with former members of his staff. Lieberman’s papers relating to his work as chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, from 2007 to 2012, went to the National Archives.

Lieberman said his official papers went to the Library of Congress because he is friends with the librarian, James Billington.

“We share a love for two things that begin with ‘B’,” Lieberman said, “Books and baseball.”

The former senator, who began his political career as a Democrat and ended it as an independent, said Billington approached him shortly after LIeberman announced his retirment in 2011 and asked for the papers.

“Frankly, I was honored by the request,” Lieberman said. “It’s a great institution.”

The Library of Congress has papers from hundreds of former federal lawmakers, including George Washington, Patrick Henry and other delegates to the First Continental Congress.

But LIeberman said the national library no longer has the resources to hold the records of every member of Congress who wants to deposit them there. He said an exception was made in his case because he ran for vice president and because he has a longstanding knowledge of foreign affairs.

LIeberman also said that the inclusion of thousands of emails in the collection was possible because the Senate has begun keeping records of all messaging on senators’ official Blackberrys.

Longtime Lieberman aide and adviser Sherry Brown and Bernard L. Kavaler, founder of the public relations firm Express Strategies, were hired to organize the massive collection.

“It’s a fun project, but very time intensive,” Brown said.

The public will have to wait at least 20 years to be able to look at Lieberman’s documents and emails. He has restricted access to that material to himself and to those who receive his permission to look at them. That restriction won’t be lifted until the former senator dies or 20 years go by, whichever is longer, said Library of Congress spokeswoman Gayle Osterberg.

Lieberman, a Stamford native, passed up the opportunity to leave his documents to his alma mater, Yale University, or to the University of Connecticut’s Thomas Dodd Research Center, which has archived the papers of most major Connecticut politicians, including former Sens. Thomas Dodd and Prescott Bush Sr., and is expected to receive former Democratic Sen. Chris Dodd’s papers.

Greg Colati, senior director for archives at the Thomas Dodd Research Center at the University of Connecticut, said the university reaches out to every Connecticut member of Congress soon after he or she assumes office to talk about the disposition of official papers.

“We try to advise them on what’s best for them and what’s best for the papers,” Colati said.

He said the Dodd center had asked Lieberman for his papers for years, but had known for some time that the school would not get them.

Yet Colati said he was not disappointed to lose the collection, even as he conceded it would have increased the value of UConn’s archives.

“There’s the prestige factor, for sure,” Colati said. “And our goal is to collect the papers of the Connecticut (congressional) delegation. But we’re happy that (Lieberman’s papers) are going to a responsible place.”

Gary Rose, head of the political science department at Sacred Heart University, said he thinks Lieberman donated his papers to the Library of Congress because he views himself as more than a Connecticut politician.

“I think he wants a larger stage,” Rose said. “He wants to be remembered as a national, rather than a state figure.”

Besides running for vice president with former Sen. Al Gore on the Democratic ticket, Lieberman made a failed run for the presidency. But documents relating to that brief effort, which lasted less than a month at the beginning of 2004, will not be archived.

Rose also said he thinks Lieberman is concerned about his low approval ratings at the end of his political career. Those low ratings were largely the result of Lieberman’s hawkish views on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

“He wants to make sure there’s little question about his political career,” Rose said.

Meredith McGehee, policy director at the Campaign Legal Center, said it’s unusual for a lawmaker to use political money to archive documents.

“It’s certainly not the run-of-the-mill use of campaign funds,” she said.

But McGehee said there’s no restriction on the use of campaign funds for that purpose.

“There’s a  wide latitude on how you can spend leftover funds,” she said.

McGehee also said she prefers that Lieberman use his campaign funds on his legacy, rather than to become a “sugar daddy” that uses the money to make donations to other politicians in the hopes of winning influence.

According to the latest filings with the FEC, Lieberman had about $525,000 in leftover campaign cash as of June 30. 

The former senator is now senior counsel in the New York City office of the firm Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman. 

 

 

 

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