Washington — Sen. Joe Lieberman may be retiring from Congress, but he hasn’t stopped raising campaign donations for his leadership PAC.
Lieberman, a Connecticut independent, raised more than $50,000 for his Reuniting Our Country political action committee after he announced his retirement in January of last year.
Lieberman established the Reuniting Our Country PAC as chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee.
In its latest filing with the Federal Election Committee, the PAC reported having about $155,000 in cash on hand Dec. 31.
That’s not a lot of money in today’s political campaign world.
But it raises questions about what Lieberman intends to do with the fund.
“At this time, no decisions have been made for the future of the leadership PAC or the remaining campaign funds after the senator leaves office,” said Lieberman press secretary Whitney Phillips.
Leadership PACs are usually established to increase a lawmaker’s influence on Capitol Hill through donations to other lawmakers’ campaigns.
“The original idea behind the leadership PAC is if you wanted to move up in the hierarchy in the Congress, you gave to other lawmakers and other candidates so they would be loyal to you,” said Bob Biersack, senior fellow at the Center for Responsive Politics.
When a lawmaker retires, he or she can use the money in a leadership PAC for anything they want.
“Once Senator Lieberman leaves the Senate, there’s nothing to prevent him from using his leadership PAC to buy himself a yacht,” said Paul Ryan, an attorney at the Campaign Legal Center.
Some retiring members spend down their leadership PACs before they leave office through donations to other candidates.
Lieberman, who retires at the end of the year, could still do this. Phillips said. “The PAC will continue to be active through the end of this election year.”
But the PAC has given to very few candidates lately, making only seven contributions — all to Democratic Senate campaigns — that total $14,000 in the last six months of 2011.
Some lawmakers who leave Congress to become lobbyists use their leadership PACs to continue to seek influence on Capitol Hill.
Retired Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., who is now a lobbyist with Patton Boggs, continued to make contributions to campaigns from his leadership PAC for several years after he left office.
Ryan said it’s unclear why Lieberman continued to work the fundraising circuit after he announced his retirement.
“The reality is that most of the cash in politics is given for influence-seeking,” Ryan said. “The most poignant illustration of this is to give to someone who is leaving office.”
Mark and Leonor Blum held a fundraiser for Reuniting Our Country PAC at their Baltimore home in October.
“He’s been a long-term friend and asked us to have a little event,” said Leonor Blum. “I would prefer to support an active candidate, but (Lieberman) has just been so loyal.”
Lieberman has not been raising money for his personal campaign committee, which, unlike leadership PACs, have many restrictions.
Lieberman reported having more than $1 million in his re-election committee as of Oct. 31.
He can’t take that money with him. According to FEC regulations, he can only give that money to charity, to political party committees or to candidates for state and local offices.
Editor’s Note: A spokesman for Sen. Lieberman’s office said Thursday that any remaining PAC money will be used either for political purposes or be donated to charity.