SPRINGFIELD — A government watchdog group is criticizing former lawmakers turned lobbyists such as Rep. David Hobson for using leftover campaign money for political reasons.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW, found that ex-lawmakers who became lobbyists spent $3 million on campaign contributions, more than any other expense. Former lawmakers who did not become lobbyists, however, donated 400 percent more money to charity.
“At the end of their congressional careers, many members have no qualms about using leftover campaign and PAC money for access and influence,” CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan wrote.
Hobson, who said he has never seen the report nor heard of CREW, denied any wrongdoing and chastised the report and Sloan’s comments.
“That’s a judgment made by a person who doesn’t know what they’re talking about. You don’t have to pay to get access in Washington ... But there are people who I have given money to that I support politically. One of the legitimate ways to use that money is to give it back to people who are running for office,” said Hobson, a Springfield Republican.
After every election, dozens of lawmakers leave Congress either by defeat or retirement. While some leave in debt, others have thousands or even millions left in campaign accounts.
The CREW report examined 57 former House members who left Congress in 2007 and 2008.
The top recipient of campaign contributions from former members turned lobbyists went to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who received a total of $110,000, according to the report.
And of the $110,000 Boehner received, $20,000 of it came from Hobson, the report said. Boehner’s new district will include Springfield next year.
Since leaving Congress, Hobson has donated more than $206,000 toward political campaigns. He also spent more than $91,000 on charitable contributions, the most of the former House members in the study, according to the report.
Hobson now lobbies the House over defense issues on behalf of Woolpert LLP, a geospatial company, and Trimble Navigation Limited, a GPS company, which paid Welch Resources $540,000 and $380,000 respectively since Hobson registered to lobby for them, the report said.
The report also notes Hobson has contributed $5,000 to Defense Appropriations Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee chairman Rep. Bill Young’s campaign committee. Hobson gave $4,000 to Young’s campaign committee weeks before Young, R-Fla., secured the chairmanship in 2010, the report said.
Campaign funds can be used for campaign-related expenses and political and charitable contributions, but cannot be used for certain air travel and personal use, according to federal campaign election laws.
Currently, campaign committees are not required to end after the lawmakers leave office.
The report calls for a time period when campaigns for exiting members of Congress would have to wind down campaign committees.
Hobson said he has given money to politicians, both Republican and Democrat, that he supports. He said if he supports a Democrat, he does so out of his own pocket and not with campaign contributions.
Hobson said the report was akin to a witch-hunt.
“The money that was used complies with all federal law, and I think this person is trying to look for something that’s not there,” Hobson said.
He said he returned about $250,000 after leaving Congress, but said it’s difficult to return donations to people because many of them don’t want their contributions back. He maintained that his use of campaign funds is legal and ethical.
“This complies with the law. They’re just looking to make a story and justify it to whoever funds them. This is one of those groups that like to look for things that aren’t there.”
Other findings in the report showed that nine former members spent more than $150,000 contributing to family members’ political campaigns.
Some former members’ campaign committees made direct payments to family members.
Former Rep. Dave Weldon, R-Fla., now a doctor in Florida, paid his wife more than $6,000 and his daughter $2,900 from his campaign committee, according to the report. Weldon’s campaign committee also picked up a $525 hotel bill for the Ritz-Carlton in Washington, D.C., in 2011, the report said.
The campaign committee of former Rep. Bill Sali, R-Idaho, paid his daughter $1,500 in consulting fees. And the campaign committee of former Rep. Jim Ramstad, R-Minn., paid staff $85,000 after Ramstad retired to manage his communications and assist with other needs, according to the report.
The campaign committee of the late Rep. Tom Lantos, D-Calif., has spent nearly $600,000 in the four years since he died in 2008, the report said.