CA GOP Convention delegates urge retired congressmen to help party’s finances

March 2, 2013

By John Hrabe

Rep-logo-upside-downSACRAMENTO — Meeting in the state capital this weekend for its spring convention, the California Republican Party is deep in the red. The party’s debt problems are so bad it’s not even clear how much money it owes creditors.

The Sacramento Bee reported the tab could be as high as $800,000. One state party officer told on Friday afternoon, “The number is probably closer to half a million, when it’s all said and done.”

It could take incoming state Republican chairman Jim Brulte months to get the party into the black. Or the party’s financial problems could be resolved with as few as four phone calls to longtime Republican officials who currently sit on millions of dollars in active campaign committees.

Will quartet come to their party’s aid?

Four former Republican members of Congress — Wally Herger, Elton Gallegly, David Dreier and Jerry Lewis — retain more than $2.2 million in combined cash on hand in federal campaign accounts. Federal campaign finance rules allow retired members of Congress to make unlimited transfers to state party committees. Pegging the party’s debt at a half-million dollars, the party could resolve its financial problems with as little as 22 percent of the retired members’ reported cash on hand, still leaving them with more than $1 million to spend as they see fit.

“After decades of serving the people of California and the Republican Party, this is a splendid opportunity for them to generously give back — to help revive the California Republican Party,” said Shawn Steel, California’s Republican National Committee representative. “I have no doubt, in terms of their political legacy, they’ll want to make one final contribution to the state party.”

Retiring members of Congress are eligible to make “unlimited transfers to any national, state or local political party committee,” according to the Federal Election Commission’s Campaign Guide for Congressional Candidates and Committees, published in August 2011.

California’s outgoing Republican chairman, Tom Del Beccaro, told reporters on Saturday that he has been frustrated by the congressional delegation’s lack of financial support and believes that the four recently retired members of Congress should help alleviate the party’s debts.

At a Saturday morning press conference, when asked whether the retired members should aid the party, Del Beccaro answered simply, “Yes and yes.”

“Jim Brulte will be a better chairman when it comes to those types of things,” he added.

Few federal limits on ex-lawmakers’ use of leftover campaign cash

lewis.cspanWithin the first six months of a candidate leaving office, congressional committees are authorized to use their campaign committees to pay for “the costs of winding down the office of a former federal officeholder,” which can include moving expenses, payments to committee staff and gifts to individuals. If funds remain after six months, federal officeholders are eligible to make unlimited contributions to political parties and charitable organizations as well as contribute to state and local candidates, pursuant to state law. About the only restriction on federal officeholders: no expenditures for personal use.

Lewis, frequently described as “one of California’s most powerful Republicans,” ended his 34 years in Washington with $856,407 in the bank.

Dreier, who was recently appointed chairman of the Annenberg-Dreier Commission at Sunnylands after 32 years in Congress, has nearly $750,000 in his congressional account.

Gallegly, who represented Ventura County for 12 terms, retired with just shy of $600,000 in cash on hand.

Herger, who represented Northern California’s 2nd congressional district for 13 terms, maintains the lowest cash on hand, a little more than $82,000.

State party Treasurer Mike Osborn said the party could use the help.

“All our party members have future plans,” said Osborn, who is seeking reelection to his post. “It would be much appreciated if they could find a way to help the party.”

The former congressmen have yet to embrace the idea of bailing out the state party. Last July, a spokesman for Lewis told that the congressman was still considering his options. “He has not made any final decisions on the distribution of his campaign account at this point,” said Jim Specht, then Lewis’ deputy chief of staff.

A spokesman for Gallegly told last summer that the congressman was considering his options, which was affirmed in January.

“We’re working very closely with the [Federal Election Commission] to make sure what we do is appropriate and make sure that when the final decision is made, it’s going to be one that can best serve the community,” Gallegly told his hometown paper,  the Ventura County Star.

No new campaigns seen for ex-congressmen

It’s unlikely that any of the four congressional retirees would run for another office. All four retired from Congress in 2012 rather than face tough reelections in new district’s created through the state’s decennial redistricting process.

Rancho Santa Margarita Councilman Jesse Petrilla, a Republican candidate in the 73rd Assembly District, believes that the retired members of Congress should contribute to the party’s debt along with everyone else in the state party.

“They should chip in whatever they can,” said Petrilla, who serves as a convention delegate. “But we’re going to need support from more than just a few individuals. We need everyone to reach into their pockets and dig deep.”

On Sunday, party delegates will consider a resolution proposed by Republican delegate and activist Carl Burton that would thank all retiring Republican members of Congress, including the four members, “for their service to citizens of California and to the United States of America.”

Noticeably absent from the resolution: any mention of their service to the California Republican Party.

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