Nice Time: Elijah Cummings Left A Gift For Maryland Youth
When Elijah Cummings died in October, his congressional campaign had about a million bucks in funds ready to go for his 2020 reelection campaign. And while it's legal for campaigns of retired or deceased politicians to linger on for years, using unspent funds to influence future elections by supporting other candidates or political action committees, that's not what's going to happen with the money currently held by the Cummings for Congress Campaign Committee. Campaign treasurer Ronald Thompson emailed the Baltimore Sun to let the paper know Cummings said he wanted the funds to go to programs for local youth, like helping poor kids pay for college.
The committee "is in the process of winding down operations," Thompson wrote. "We contemplate that, in accordance with Congressman Cummings' wishes, at the conclusion of this process, any 'excess campaign funds' will be transferred to educational and charitable organizations for the purpose of need-based college scholarships and youth leadership programs."
That sounds like exactly the sort of thing Cummings, who went from being the child of sharecroppers to being a voice of moral clarity in Congress, would want. Even after he's been gone for months, he can make us get a bit teary-eyed with his vision of an America that's fairer and kinder for everyone.
The details have yet to be announced, like which groups would receive the campaign funds or whether any donations would go to any other causes. Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, the congressman's widow, is running for the seat Cummings held, and it would be legal for the campaign to donate up to $2,000 to any candidate's primary campaign, and another $2,000 for the general. But instead, the money appears earmarked for purposes other than politics.
It's a pretty unusual way for unspent political funds to be spent, according to Noah Bookbinder of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, the good-government group that has been particularly busy of late tracking Trump administration corruption. If Trump is UltraGoofus, then Cummings is as Gallant as they came:
"My sense is there is a whole range of ways these funds are used after someone passes away or is retired," Bookbinder said. "Sometimes they are refunded, sometimes they go to PACs, sometimes they go to charity. But it's rare for this amount of money to go for this purpose. It's a credit to Representative Cummings, who was always a person of integrity."
Even though the exact outlines of where the money will go has yet to be announced, it won't be surprising if some goes to an educational nonprofit Cummings started 20 years ago, the Elijah Cummings Youth Program. Program coordinator Emily Braverman told the Sun Cummings "was very dedicated to furthering higher education for students," and that he "made it a point to come back to Baltimore and interview every candidate" for the program, which now has over 200 alumni. It was one of the three institutions the Cummings family asked people to donate to when he died; the other two were historically black universities -- Baltimore's Morgan State University and Cummings's alma mater, Howard University.
The Sun notes that federal laws are pretty loose when it comes to what can be done with campaign funds of retired or deceased federal officeholders.
In recent years, more than a half-dozen former members of Congress have taken advantage of election law loopholes and tapped their old campaign accounts to lobby on behalf of foreign clients, the nonprofit Campaign Legal Center and The Daily Beast reported in July.
"There's not really too much regulation," said Brendan Quinn, a spokesman for the Center for Responsive Politics. "We've seen examples of candidates who have been dead for years and the candidate's staff is still paying themselves a full salary."
None of that crap for Elijah Cummings, who said while speaking at Freddie Gray's funeral -- after the young man died in the back of a police van -- that the media only pay attention to young black men when they're killed by police, not when they're alive.
"I've often said, our children are the living messages we send to a future we will never see," he said, his voice rising. "But now our children are sending us to a future they will never see! There's something wrong with that picture!"
It only makes sense that Elijah Cummings would leave behind a legacy aimed at changing that picture.
God bless you, Rep. Cummings.
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