Have Gavel Will Travel

Campaign cash carries a retired judge around the world

Suzy Woodford, director of Common Cause in Texas, says the leftover campaign cash poses much broader issues statewide. Her group is one of several pressing for changes to restrict how departing officeholders can use remaining funds. Their point is that contributions are sought and received by candidates for the purpose of financing campaigns for those candidates -- and not for all sorts of other ventures and expenses coming much later.

Woodford's primary concern is legislators who "leave with this sack of [unspent campaign] cash," only to return and use it to lobby for special interests.

Sullivan says the law requires him to empty his campaign coffer within six years of leaving office. "So I've only got four-and-a-half years to go." Even that provision is vague, however. Woodford believed the six-year limit had been established -- now she notes recent rulings that enable former officeholders to continue spending the cash indefinitely, as long as they keep a designated "campaign treasurer" on file with the state.

"We think the six years ought to mean six years," she says. "Instead, it is open-ended."

Sullivan says he just follows the laws. Even if he wanted to, he couldn't refund the contributions at this point. There's a one-year limit on returning money -- and donors can't get more than they originally contributed, he says. "I've always said this, 'I've always played by the rules. If they change the rules, I'll follow the new ones -- just as long as I know what they are.' "

In the meantime, he's excited over a new stock for his campaign fund -- GeneMedicine of the Woodlands, which was recently acquired by a California company. And Sullivan's also eagerly anticipating upcoming bar conferences in New York and London. He explains that he has side trips to Amsterdam and France sandwiched between them.

Sullivan will be paying for the side trips with personal money. The rest comes courtesy of that magical campaign account.

E-mail George Flynn at george.flynn@houstonpress.com.

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