Baucus leaves office with $5 million war chest to share

2013-04-24T16:24:00Z 2014-08-25T07:41:44Z Baucus leaves office with $5 million war chest to shareBy TOM LUTEY tlutey@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

No longer seeking re-election, U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., must now decide what to do with the nearly $5 million in campaign money he has left over.

The six-term senator announced Tuesday that he would not seek re-election in 2014. However, the 71-year-old Baucus was taking campaign donations at least through the first three months of this year. First-quarter finance reports show Baucus raised $1.6 million through the end of March.

Baucus can’t keep the money as income under the federal law. He can donate it to charities or contribute it to other campaigns. Baucus hasn’t said specifically where the money will be directed, but Montana’s Democratic campaigns will benefit.

“There’s been no bigger supporter than Max Baucus of the Montana Democratic Party throughout all the highs and lows over the years,” said John Lewis, Baucus' state director. “Max will continue to be looking for ways to support the party, Montana Democratic candidates and causes as he always has.”

Several day-after reports on Baucus’ surprise retirement announcement have focused on his role as lead fundraiser nationally for Democratic campaigns. The Center for Responsive Politics noted that as Senate Finance Committee chairman, Baucus was one of Washington’s most powerful Democrats and fundraisers. He collected more than $1 million from lobbyists since 1990, including $565,000 from individual lobbyists last year. The center’s report is on its website, www.opensecrets.org.

Other major contributors included pharmaceutical companies, lawyers and law firms and securities and investment businesses, all of which had business before Senate Finance.

Baucus’ political action committee, Glacier PAC, has been one of the top leadership PAC contributors to Democratic Senate candidates. Since 2000, Glacier PAC has contributed $1.6 million to Senate Democrats, in key races contributing the maximum allowable amount of $5,000 in both primary and general election cycles, the Center for Responsive Politics reported.

With Baucus not seeking re-election, donations are likely to begin flowing to his possible replacements as Senate Finance chairman in 2015 — Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., or current ranking member Sen. Orin Hatch, R-Utah. Who chairs the committee next will depend on which party has the majority after the 2014 election.

“I bet you he’s already getting checks, or bigger checks,” political scientist David Parker said of Baucus’ likely successor.

Likewise, Baucus’ ability to raise campaign funds will diminish, said Parker, who teaches at Montana State University and blogs at www.bigskypolitics.blogspot.com.

It’s been decades since lawmakers were able to retire with their campaign spoils, Parker said.

Upon leaving office, Baucus will receive a pension under one of four retirement arrangements created during his 34 years in the Senate.

The differences stem from a time before 1984 when federal employees didn’t pay Social Security taxes. Lawmakers, like Baucus, who served before 1984 had a choice of sticking with the original plan, selecting the newer Federal Employee’s Retirement System or combining one of the plans with Social Security.

The size of the pension depends on years of service and the average of the highest three years of salary. The current base salary for a U.S. senator is $174,000. For a lawmaker with Baucus’ tenure, the initial annual pension under the Civil Service Retirement System is $130,000 a year, according to the Congressional Research Service. Offsets for Social Security payments can lower the amount by $18,000 or more.

Copyright 2015 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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