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Meehan opens checkbook to reward staff, supporters

Former Rep. Martin Meehan is the first to admit he’s tight
with a buck.

But campaign finance reports show he spent liberally during
his final three months in Congress before becoming chancellor of the University
of Massachusetts at Lowell.

Meehan doled out more than $46,000 to reward various
congressional staffers, supporters, fundraisers and fellow congressmen with
campaign donations, dinners at restaurants in New York
City and Washington, D.C.
and other freebies, including Boston Red Sox tickets.

“I’m not generous by nature,” Meehan said in a
recent telephone interview with The Associated Press. “It was a painful
quarter for me … I wouldn’t call it a spending spree. These are more like
natural wrap-up costs as I was leaving Congress.”

Meehan left the House seat he held for nearly 15 years with
a $4.8 million campaign account that the Lowell Democrat plans to hold onto.

Current and former members of Congress are given broad
latitude on how they can use campaign funds as long as the spending relates to
politics or advances their political interests.

Meehan detailed his spending in a new campaign finance
report he filed this month with the Federal Election Commission covering the
three-month period ending June 30.

He reported $145,765 in expenses for the quarter, including:

– a $590 dinner for former staffers at Restaurant Thalia in New
York City’s theater district.

– a supporters appreciation dinner at Scalinatella
Restaurant in New York City costing

– a $867 dinner tab at The Monocle Restaurant on Capitol
Hill with fellow House members.

– a $427 dinner at Morton’s steakhouse in downtown D.C. with
House colleagues.

– dinner with House members costing $657 at Montmartre,
a French restaurant on Capitol Hill.

– $1,743 for food at Butcher Boy Marketplace in North
Andover, Mass. for
“supporters appreciation dinners.”

– $499 for T-shirts for supporters.

Republican political consultant Jim Nuzzo said Meehan’s
recent spending underscores the need to tighten campaign finance laws on how
money can be used.

“I’m not attacking Marty for being profligate or
illegal or immoral,” Nuzzo said. “He’s doing what the game is. …
He’s got this big chunk of change. He views it essentially as his slush fund
and the law allows him to do that.”

On June 30, the day before he stepped down from Congress,
Meehan wrote a $3,800 check to Lenzi’s Catering Service, Inc. in Dracut,
Mass. The money was advance payment for a
July 28 “appreciation clambake” for former staffers.

Meehan wrote $4,000 checks to his nine fellow House members
from Massachusetts and a few
other congressional colleagues from across the country.

He also showed financial support for his new employer,
UMass. The checks were written after he was chosen for the chancellor’s job
last March.

Meehan gave a $1,250 check to the UMass Foundation in April.
The money paid for a table to UMass Night at the Boston Pops, an annual concert
gathering that includes alumni, faculty and school officials.

Meehan last month made a $1,200 donation to the UMass-Lowell
athletic department, a group he said he’s given to in the past.

He spent $340 on four Red Sox tickets for Dave Trahan, a top
Meehan fundraiser. Meehan praised Trahan as someone who has “raised a
considerable amount of money for me over the years.”

Meehan shelled out another $585 for Baltimore Orioles
tickets for himself and staffers to see the Sox play in Baltimore.
The event was part of Meehan’s annual 5th District day in D.C. that he hosts
for constituents.

“I didn’t want anyone who works for me to be on someone
else’s ticket,” he said.

Under federal campaign law, Meehan cannot make personal use
of the money. He’s allowed to write checks for political causes, including
parties, other candidates, events and charities. He could return contributions
to his donors. Or he could use it for another campaign.

Nuzzo would like to see Meehan give his leftover campaign
money to the Democratic Party or to other candidates.

“Marty’s getting out of the game, going into
academics,” Nuzzo said. “Fine. Then take the money that was intended
for politics and put it back into politics.”

Meehan said he’s been besieged with hundreds of requests for
charitable contributions since word leaked out earlier this year about his $4.8
million campaign account, the largest balance of any House member for the 2006
congressional election cycle.

As the departing Meehan made the rounds of farewell dinners
with House colleagues in Washington
in recent weeks, he said often had to pick up the tab.

“Everyone in Congress knows how much money I have in
the bank,” Meehan said. “It was awful.”

Meehan said he has shut down his political campaign
committee and is investing his leftover campaign funds in certificates of
deposit for the time being.

Meehan raised much of his money over the past few
years in anticipation of a campaign for Sen. John Kerry’s seat had the 2004
Democratic presidential nominee won the White House. Meehan’s Senate ambitions
were snuffed out again early this year when Kerry bowed out of the 2008 presidential race, saying he would run for Senate re-election.

– Associated Press

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