Frist still raising money, politically engaged
For a guy who officially lists himself as "retired", Bill Frist sure is politically active.
After retiring as Senate majority leader in early January, the Tennessee Republican raised more than $280,000 for his political action committee. He's spent more than $350,000 on a political operation that still includes several consultants and monthly rent hitting $9,500 for offices in Washington and Nashville. And he's peppered the roughly 700,000 recipients of his PAC e-mails with missives about everything from Fred Thompson's chances at winning the GOP nomination to watching his wife promote her new book.
Oh, the heart surgeon-turned politician also spent a month in Africa on a medical mission and is hosting a global health conference in Russia later this month.
Frist's high-level activity, particularly the ongoing political operation, is distinct from other recent retired party floor leaders. Most of them, such as former Senate Majority Leaders Robert Dole (R-Kan.) and George Mitchell (D-Maine), shuttered fund-raising operations and claimed elder statesmen status within their respective parties.
Frist had spent several years preparing for a presidential run only to back away after the disastrous 2006 midterms for Republicans, which capped what been considered a poor political showing in 2005 and 2006 by Frist. Advisers cautioned Capitol Briefing not to read too much into Frist's continuing political activities, noting that he just turned 55 and wants to stay active in public policy issues such as health care.
"That doesn't mean his dedication to the Republican Party and its conservative principles has lessened. VolPAC will remain vibrant and strongly supportive of candidates who adhere to those beliefs," said Matt Lehigh, Frist's spokesman for Volunteer PAC.
Frist has always been an unpredictable politician, so it's hard for Capitol Briefing to figure out whether the busy political work is part of the broader effort to promote conservative health-care issues or an effort to maintain viability for a future campaign. Of course, it could be both.
Some Tennessee Republicans wonder whether Frist would run for governor in 2010 when Gov. Phil Bredesen (D) is up against his term limit. Advisers have mixed reviews on such a race, which, if successful, could help Frist rehabilitate his political image in national GOP circles. Importantly, the Securities and Exchange Commission last week concluded an investigation into his trading of stock in his family's hospital chain without bringing any charges, clearing an investigative cloud that had been hanging over his head since September 2005.
Rep. Zach Wamp (R-Tenn.), who has joined Frist in actively backing a White House run by Thompson, a former senator from Tennessee, suggested Frist is done with politics and not interested in a gubernatorial bid. "He's more interested in philanthropic mission work," Wamp said.
Frist hasn't lost his taste for national politics, however, as his trumpeting of Thompson demonstrates. His web site actually boasts a large Thompson picture and only a tiny one of Frist. It includes regular blog posts supporting the actor-senator's potential bid.
If Thomspon runs, some of Frist's own political activity could slow to a halt as his top advisers might sign up for the presidential campaign. His longtime fundraiser Linus Catignani is the main engine for VolPAC. A pair of $5,000 checks to the PAC came from Karyn Frist, his wife, and the ex-senator himself. [He listed his occupation as retired.]
Here are other highlights from VolPAC's recent reports with the Federal Election Commission:
â€¢ The $282,124 collected through March 31 includes a litter of $5,000 checks from prominent donors such as Nashville fundraiser Ted Welch, who is now supporting former Gov. Mitt Romney (R-Mass.) for president;
â€¢ Frist paid about $75,000 to Catignani and other direct-mail consultants in February and March, sending out mass mailings designed to raise small-dollar donations throughout the year;
â€¢ Frist paid a handful of consultants in February and March, although several are expected to come off the payroll since he's not running for president;
â€¢ He raised no money from corporate PACs or other special-interest PACs, which usually don't cough up donations for former lawmakers.
The last few years were bad for Frist: accomplishing little legislatively, dealing with an 18-month federal investigation into his personal finances and ending his tenure by handing over the chamber to Democrats. But he's still got plenty of time to re-start a political career.
A perusal of his blog posts and e-mails seem to show a former lawmaker enjoying the life of a non-senator. At the same time they also include
well-produced YouTube clips of him helping poor children in Darfur. Those sure would make nice campaign clips for a future bid.
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