A reality based independent journal of observation & analysis, serving the Flathead Valley & Montana since 2006. © James Conner.

1 February 2017

Is Max Baucus sitting on $2 million in campaign funds
that could be purposed to help his son, Zeno, run for office?

Several sources report that Max Baucus is holding on to one to two million dollars in campaign funds raised for his 2014 re-election campaign — and that he intends to use the money to help his son, Zeno, run for a statewide partisan office.

When Max Baucus decided not to seek re-election, his campaign fund contained approximately $3.3 million. One source reports he donated $600,000 to the University of Montana Law School to administer his papers and create a Max Baucus center, and another $500,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

In May, 2014, the Center for Public Integrity reported he still had $1.97 million, not as much as some former members of Congress, but enough to do a considerable amount of good or evil.


There are constraints on the disbursement of unexpended campaign funds, but not as many as one might suppose:

Federal Election Commission regulations prohibit “using campaign funds for personal use,” and they specifically name mortgages, rent, tuition, country club dues, household supplies and most clothing among a litany of no-nos. They’re also barred from giving the money to friends and relatives, unless they’re doing bona fide, market-value work for the campaign committee.

But in addition to donating excess campaign money to charity, former congressmen have several options for spending their campaign cash once they’ve run their final campaign. Among them:

  • Transfer unlimited amounts to national, state and local political party committees;
  • Make limited donations to political candidates at any governmental level;
  • Refund donations from political contributors;
  • Pay off lingering campaign expenses or debt;
  • Convert a campaign committee into a political action committee.

They can also hang on to the cash for future political runs — or just leave it in the bank to collect interest.

Max’s campaign fund cannot write a $2 million check to Zeno. But the money could be donated to the Montana Democratic Party. It could be converted to a political action committee. Thus laundered, it could be spent to help Zeno win an election.

Max could, of course, donate the money to help Syrian refugees survive abroad until President Trump retires and immigration sanity returns to the United States. Or he could return the money to the donors, perhaps with a nice card picturing Zeno with a note reading “I’m proud of my son, Zeno, who is running his first campaign for public office.”

Those are honorable options. Indeed, they’re probably the most honorable options. Returning the money to the donors is my preference. But they’re not options a proud, powerful, father who wants to help his son create a political dynasty would choose.

Will Zeno go for the Democratic nomination for the special election for the U.S. House? There are persistent rumors that he might. As no Democrat is expected to win, he could gain valuable experience running a statewide campaign without injuring his reputation as long as he worked hard and didn’t make huge blunders. That would put him in a position to run for governor or attorney general, both open offices in 2020, or challenge incumbent Steve Daines for the U.S. Senate seat in 2020. Not all, or even a lot, of Max’s remaining campaign money would be needed for a 2017 training wheels campaign.

Many members of Max’s political machine remain involved in Democratic Party politics. Life was good for them when Max was in the Senate, and they think life could be good again if Zeno provides another 30 years of blue dog office holding that brings in money and keeps the party’s liberals at bay.

I don’t know Zeno. Until I learn more about him, I don’t know whether I would support his running for office in 2020. But I generally take a dim view of political dynasties, a dimmer view of blue dog Democrats, and have a very dark view of today’s identity politics Democratic Party. The party needs new blood, and men and women who can retain their liberalism while making a cultural connection with rural voters and white working class men. That’s why I’ve endorse Rob Quist for the Democratic nomination to replace Zinke.