Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh won't be on the ballot this fall, but he could still play a big role in this year's Senate
race by spending part of his campaign war chest.
The two-term Democratic senator has several options for disposing of the $12.2 million that will soon be left in his campaign account, but he's given little clue about his intentions except that he'll help Indiana's eventual Democratic Senate nominee.
Bayh, who announced last week that he would not seek a third term in the Senate, has wide legal flexibility in directing the money for political activities.
He can't spend the money on himself, but he is allowed to spend millions of dollars on TV ads, mailings and other contacts with Indiana voters — as long as he does not work hand-in-glove with the Democratic Senate nominee.
Democratic strategist Tad Devine said Bayh could make substantial donations to Indiana congressional and state legislative candidates and still keep most of his campaign war chest intact for a possible future run for office.
Bayh, at 54, is still "a young man," Devine told The Journal Gazette.
"He may want to do things politically in the future, whether it's run for governor or pursue another office or be involved in politics in some meaningful way where resources like that could make an enormous difference. Preserving it is a great option," Devine said.
By mid-April, Bayh must return any money given specifically for the November election — about $575,000 of the $12.9 million he had on hand as of Jan. 1. He must also return about $215,000 the Indiana Democratic Party has already spent on his behalf.
That leaves $12.2 million.
"I haven't given that much thought," Bayh said of the money at his retirement announcement. "Obviously I want to help some other people, but that's a decision for another day."
Indiana Democratic Party Chairman Dan Parker said Bayh told state party officials in a conference call last week that he would help the Democratic nominee "in a big way financially," but that he did not identify an amount.
Larry Noble, a campaign finance attorney and former chief lawyer for the Federal Election Commission, said he's certain that Bayh will be under pressure to help the Democratic Party.
"I suspect the party is thinking that what was a relatively safe seat is no longer safe. They may be asking for help," Noble said.
Democrats were dumbfounded — and privately seething — at Bayh's decision, which left no other Democratic candidates enough time to collect the 4,500 signatures they would need to be on the May 4 primary ballot. As a result, the leadership of the Indiana Democratic Party will choose a candidate.
Devine said the most likely scenario for Bayh is to keep most of the money in his campaign account for a possible future candidacy.
That's not what Republican Dan Coats did when he left the Senate in 1998. Coats had nearly $568,000 in his campaign account and distributed some of it to charities and other Republican candidates.
He also sent a $400,000 check to the Republican National Committee.
Had Coats left that money untouched in his campaign account, he would have been able to use it for his Senate candidacy this year.