WASHINGTON -- If they leave office at the end of their terms next year, 165 House members could pocket $41 million in leftover campaign money for personal use, says a study made public yesterday.
But if they stay in office beyond 1992, federal law would prohibit them from using the money for anything but expenses related to their campaigns or public duties.
The study, by the Center for Public Integrity, a non-profit research group based in Washington, found that the House members amassed these "golden parachutes" because most had such weak opponents, if any at all, that they barely used their campaign treasuries to win re-election last year.
While some congressional analysts had predicted that many members would retire next year so they could use their leftover campaign money as retirement cushions, it is not clear that will happen.
These 165 lawmakers, 111 Democrats and 54 Republicans who make up more than one-third of the House, now have seniority. And many say they are not ready to leave office just for the money, and face unfavorable publicity for doing so.
Representative Stephen J. Solarz, D-N.Y., tops the list with nearly $1.4 million in leftover campaign funds that he could keep if he retires next year. But he says he never intended to pocket the money, and he defends his hefty war chest as necessary in case a redrawing of congressional district lines to reflect population changes found in the 1990 census pits him against another well-financed incumbent.
Many House members who have retired and kept leftover campaign money have spent it on efforts to seek other elective offices or for charities. But the study found that a sizable number kept the money, spending it on anything from works of art to automobiles.
Of the more than 200 House members who retired from 1979 to 1991, the study said, 73 spent an estimated $6.4 million in surplus campaign money for personal use.
Among the more striking examples cited in the report, former Representative Robert E. Badham, R-Calif., spent about $40,000 in leftover campaign money for such things as personal travel, formal wear, jewelry for his wife, club dues and dry cleaning.
A law passed in 1980 prohibits House members from keeping leftover campaign money when they retire but exempts members who were in office before Jan. 8, 1980.
The House repealed that exemption in 1989, effective in 1993.