Andrews exits Congress flush with campaign funds

WASHINGTON – Congressional careers may end, but campaign money endures.

Tuesday is officially the last day in office for South Jersey U.S. Rep. Rob Andrews (D., N.J.), but he will have wide latitude in how he uses nearly $700,000 in campaign funds he still holds in two political accounts.

“He has a lot of options,” said Paul S. Ryan, senior counsel at the Campaign Legal Center, a non-partisan group that monitors campaign laws.

Andrews’ campaign money sits in two pots, with different rules for his post-House career. Most - $567,375 – is in a campaign account. Another $119,727 sits in a so-called leadership PAC (the Committee to Strengthen America). Both amounts are as of Dec. 31, the last day covered by Congress’ latest filings.

Start with the second (smaller) account. For a leadership PAC, the rules are simple: there are none. Andrews can use it for anything he likes.

“He can use those funds to buy a yacht and sail off into the sunset if he wants to,” Ryan said. The only thing preventing sitting lawmakers from doing so, he said, are House ethics rules and perhaps a desire not to offend donors. But once a lawmaker leaves office, the ethics provisions don’t apply.

There are slightly more restrictions on the campaign account. The money in that fund can be used for nearly anything, except for personal uses, according to Ryan. (So no yacht). Even if Andrews donated the money to charity, it couldn’t then be used to hire him or pay him, because that would violate the personal use restriction, Ryan said.

But it could still be useful.

One increasingly common tactic – especially for lawmakers like Andrews who leave office but take private jobs that involve influencing policy – is to keep the campaign account (with a new designation) and use it to parcel out donations.

“Most folks who are retiring from Congress but going into public affairs work, lobbying work, they usually keep the money. Cash comes in handy on Capitol Hill,” Ryan said. “If you want access or phone calls returned, it helps to have a campaign contribution to offer.”

(Andrews is leaving to lead the public affairs office at Philadelphia law firm Dilworth Paxson).

Andrews can also donate an unlimited amount from his campaign fund to Democratic party committees.

Or the money could be used for legal fees, if the fees are for an issue related to Andrews’ official duties. Andrews has spent more than $220,000 on attorneys while facing a House ethics investigation into whether he used campaign money for personal expenses, though the investigation ends with his resignation.

“We’re going to look at what the rules permit us to do and follow the rules,” Andrews said in a recent interview.

Several other lawmakers from the region will face similar decisions when they leave Congress early next year.

Chester County U.S. Rep. Jim Gerlach (R., Pa.) had $851,792 in his campaign account and $12,427 in his leadership PAC, Keystone PAC, as of Dec. 31. South Jersey U.S. Rep. Jon Runyan (R., N.J.) had $71,736 in his campaign account.

Runyan and Gerlach are not seeking re-election, but plan to serve out their terms.

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