Reagan campaign committee lives on

By Jonathan D. Salant, Associated Press, 1/29/2000

ASHINGTON - Though Ronald Reagan hasn't run in a campaign since 1984, his presidential committee continues to operate.

The Reagan-Bush '84 committee has almost half a million dollars in the bank and does little but receive interest and dividends on its money and pay taxes. It also pays its treasurer, longtime Reagan loyalist Bay Buchanan, several thousand dollars a year in consulting fees.

Those were its functions through most of the 1990s.

Former attorney general Edwin Meese III, a trustee of the campaign committee, said the balance would be liquidated once the committee could redeem the long-term, high-interest notes that it has invested its money in.

''At some point, it will go to the Reagan library,'' Meese said.

The Reagans did not know about the leftover funds, which as of September totaled $494,230, until the account was brought to their attention by the Associated Press this month, an aide to the former president said. Reagan's chief of staff, Joanne Drake, said she too wants the money for the library.

Buchanan, sister of Pat Buchanan, the Reform Party presidential candidate and former Reagan speechwriter, did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Federal Election Commission records show that she has collected $45,715 in consulting fees and expenses from the Reagan fund through the 1990s, ranging from $869 in 1992 to as much as $7,500 in 1997. She has filed quarterly reports with the election commission and paid the necessary taxes on the fund's earnings.

Campaign finance experts expressed surprise that the fund has been left open for so many years.

''That's amazing,'' election lawyer Kenneth Gross said. ''In the modern era, I can't think of a committee that would continue to exist and pay salary to somebody. That is unprecedented.''

The typical presidential campaign committee shuts down within five years of the election, according to Republican consultant Stan Huckaby, who was treasurer of George Bush's 1988 and 1992 campaign committees. Both have been closed, as have the campaign committees of Bill Clinton in 1992, Michael Dukakis in 1988, and Walter Mondale in 1984.

Gross said the only reason to keep a campaign committee around for more than a decade is to enable the candidate to raise money to pay off debts. John Glenn's 1984 presidential campaign - still $2.6 million in debt - continues to exist for that reason.

Reagan's 1984 committee has no debts.

Between Jan. 1, 1997, and Sept. 30, 1999, for example, the committee took in $42,180 - all from dividends and interest. It paid out $31,942, with $17,766, or 56 percent, going to Bay Buchanan. Most of the rest went for taxes.

Meese said the campaign committee trustees decided to put the money in long-term investments until they could decide where leftover funds should go.

''The money was invested pending a decision on what to do with it,'' Meese said.

Federal law would allow the money to be given to other federal candidates or political action committees, to be refunded to contributors or to be donated to a charity or educational institution, such as Reagan's presidential library.

For instance, Reagan's 1980 presidential committee donated its leftover money to Republican candidates and Citizens for the Republic, a political action committee.