WASHINGTON – Ralph Neas, the Montgomery County Democrat who raised more than $120,000 for a 2000 congressional run before dropping out, said he plans to give it all back.
“When I was raising money, I told people, `Here is what I am going to do.’ Now I am not doing that,” said Neas, who pulled out of a rematch with Rep. Constance A. Morella, R-Bethesda.
“I have a moral obligation to give the money back,” said Neas, who said last month that he would rather spend the time with his newborn daughter.
Under Federal Election Commission rules, Neas could have kept the money, provided he did not make personal use of it. He could have saved it for a future campaign, contributed it to other candidates or given it to charity.
“This is a unique situation,” said Patrick Lang, a field associate with MaryPIRG, the Maryland Public Interest Research Group. “Most times certainly candidates don’t give the money back.”
But Neas, who reported raising $122,309 in a June report with the FEC, said he did not even consider keeping the money.
“I don’t consider that money mine,” he said. “I’m going to return as much of that money as possible. It’s not for me to decide how the money should be spent.”
Some of the money has already been spent on items such as postage and stationery, but Neas guessed he could still return about 90 percent of the $105,000 he received from individual donors. He expects to have the refunds out by the end of the month.
Despite raising more than $800,000 for his 1998 race against Morella, Neas won just under 40 percent of the vote. He figured it would have taken $1.2 million to $1.3 million to beat Morella in 2000.
“Unfortunately, it costs a lot of money to run a campaign,” he said. “It’s not the kind of schedule that would allow me to fulfill my responsibilities as a good father and a good campaigner.”
Neas has not ruled out a future campaign. Returning the money now could come back to help him if he ever does run again, said Kathleen Skullney, executive director of Common Cause in Maryland.
“It shows a certain trust he has . with his contributors,” she said. “That trust could be very important and helpful if he ever does run again.”
Many of those contributors were surprised to learn Neas planned on sending them a refund.
“I think what he’s doing is very honorable,” said Marjorie Blumberg, a $500 donor from Bethesda. “When I gave him the money, I didn’t expect to get it back.”
Chevy Chase’s Faye F. Cohen, who contributed $1,000, said, “Ralph is the kind of guy who will do whatever he thinks is the right thing to do.”
Neither woman said she would have been upset had Neas decided to use the money for other campaigns.
“Once I give a candidate money I feel like it’s their money to use, whatever they feel the right thing to do is,” Cohen said. “If Ralph says it’s right, then that is fine with me.”