Just one day after weeping in the presence of Pope Francis, Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner on Friday said he would step down from his Congressional leadership role and give up his House seat at the end of October. Early analysis of his stunning announcement portrays the Ohio lawmaker as the victim of party in-fighting who folded under pressure from more conservative Republicans, sacrificing his own political career to thwart efforts by the far right to shut down the federal government.
But if you’re tempted to feel sorry for Boehner, who was first elected to the House in 1990, don’t. The Congressman will leave the Capitol with myriad career options, plus access to boatloads of money.
The two most recent speakers who have vacated their House seats—Dennis Hastert and Newt Gingrich—have landed in lobbying and consulting, respectively. (Boehner’s predecessor as speaker, Nancy Pelosi of California, currently serves as the House minority leader.) So while Boehner, who was a small businessman before entering politics, didn’t hint at what he’d do next in his resignation press conference, there’s a good chance he’ll land a lucrative gig at a consulting firm or on K Street.
And Boehner will already have a nice cushion of cash when he gets there.
He won’t run for reelection in 2016, but he still has access to the money he raised in anticipation of that fight. According to the Federal Election Commission, his campaign committee—the fund set up to bankroll his bid for a 13th term as Representative of Ohio’s 8th district—had cash on hand of $3,787,340 as of June 30, the date of the last filing.
Because Boehner is resigning prior to the primary election for his seat, he’ll have to return any money donated to his campaign committee for the general contest, says Kenneth Gross, a partner at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom and head of its political law group. Once that money is deducted, Boehner could donate what’s left over to charity, give it to the Republican party committee, contribute it to other candidates, or just let it sit for a while—as some other ex-members of Congress have chosen to do with such funds.
The main restriction is that he can never spend money from his campaign committee for personal use. Federal Election Commission regulations specifically say that candidates can’t use funds for mortgages, rent, tuition, country club dues, household supplies, and most clothing. Boehner could convert his millions in campaign money into a PAC, or political action committee. But even then, says Paul S. Ryan, senior counsel at the Campaign Legal Center, he can’t use the funds on himself in any way.
There are fewer restrictions, however, on what Boehner can do with the money that’s accumulated in his leadership PAC, the fund set up in his name to theoretically back other candidates. That PAC, called The Freedom Project, had cash on hand of $1,119,096 as of its latest filing, August 31. “There are really no restrictions on it,” says Skadden’s Gross. “It can be used for any purpose, with tax implications.” If the PAC money is spent on non-political expenses—say a yacht for Boehner and his wife Debbie—he’d have to pay income taxes on that cash.
Boehner’s leadership PAC money will be awfully handy if he becomes a lobbyist since he can use the funds to contribute to other candidates and causes. “If I were retiring form Congress and intending to become a lobbyist, I’d keep my war chest,” says Ryan. “It’ll help open doors at the end of the day to get the policies that clients are paying for.”