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S/P OpEd follow-up: Campaign coffers for common good?

This story is part of Sacto Politico’s ongoing “Shame of Our Campaigns” series.

Maine’s unsuccessful Senate candidate Sara Gideon made recent news when she pledged $350,000 in unspent campaign funds to statewide Maine charities. This was less than 3% of the $14.8 million left in her campaign coffers, but it struck me as a good start for leveraging the obscene amounts of money our elected officials raise – and don’t use – each election cycle.

According to current FEC report filings, the amount presently sitting unused in the war chests totals a stunning $500 million for U.S. House incumbents, U.S. Senators who ran in the last election and their richest opponents. Think of that That is a half billion dollars federal elected public servants chose not to pump into their local economies when their constituents and small businesses most needed it.

On the other hand, that’s now $500 million that can instantly do a great deal this holiday season.

So last week I published an editorial in the New York Daily News encouraging all members of Congress to follow Gideon’s lead. Among possible uses I suggested was hiring local restaurants to cater holiday thank-you meals at area hospitals. Or locally purchasing new digital tablets for at-risk students. Or paying for a thousand food deliveries to needy seniors living in food deserts. Or underwriting Christmas dinner at area shelters, or sponsoring local playhouses to stream special performances and enliven the stay-at-home holidays.

Think of the we-are-all-in-this-together good cheer this could spread, as well as the positive media coverage generated for the elected officials. I then contacted all five U.S. House members representing different parts of the Greater Sacramento Metro area. Collectively they sit on $4 million in surplus campaign cash. They are four Democrats – Ami Bera, Doris Matsui, John Garamendi and Jerry McNerney – and one Republican, Tom McClintock.

Specifically, I asked their offices if any of them would follow Gideon’s lead and spend some of their combined $4 million to help economically challenged citizens and small businesses in their districts this holiday season?

All five responded the same way. They didn’t. None responded to or even acknowledged any of my inquiries and follow-ups by voice message and email. They didn’t even have their press secretaries give the standard brush-off promising “to get back soon after we study the request further.”

Just silence amid constituent suffering in clear sight of those big war chests.

Count this as just another shame of our modern federal campaigns. Most campaign cash is raised from big donors outside incumbents’ home districts and states. Most campaign money then goes to consultants and preferred vendors located outside home districts, and even when dramatic needs arise back home, most incumbents and their national parties will dodge relinquishing any of their own hard-won bounty for the common good.

But what do you think? Should we expect more from our local public servants during these worst of times?

If you do, then contact your local members of Congress and ask them use some of their unspent war chests to help out locally. Below are links to the contact web pages of the five Greater Sacramento Metro area U.S. Reps, as well as the amounts currently in their war chests. If you live elsewhere, use this link to look up your member of Congress and this link to look up their cash-on-hand.

House Member Cash-on-hand

Ami Bera (D-7th District) $2,086,845

John Garamendi (D-3rd Dist.) $1,125,542

Doris Matsui (D-6th District) $324,506

Jerry McNerney (D-9th Dist.) $322,203

Tom McClintock (R-4th Dist.) $186,570

With all of our efforts, perhaps we can encourage a few of them to put the “public” and “servant” back into “public servant.”

Other articles in the “Shame of Our Campaigns” series:

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