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Reports: Meehan spent freely his final months in Congress

'I wouldn't call it a spending spree. These are more like natural wrap up costs as I was leaving Congress.' 'I wouldn't call it a spending spree. These are more like natural wrap up costs as I was leaving Congress.' (Lauren Victoria Burke/Ap/File 2005)

WASHINGTON -- Former representative Martin T. Meehan says he is tight with a buck.

But campaign finance reports show he spent liberally during his final three months in Congress before becoming chancellor of the University of Massachusetts at Lowell.

Meehan doled out more than $46,000 to reward various congressional staff members, supporters, fund-raisers, and fellow congressmen with campaign donations, dinners at restaurants in New York City and Washington, D.C., and other freebies, including Red Sox tickets.

"I'm not generous by nature," Meehan said in a recent telephone interview with the Associated Press. "It was a painful quarter for me. . . . I wouldn't call it a spending spree. These are more like natural wrap up costs as I was leaving Congress."

Meehan left the House seat he held for nearly 15 years with a $4.8 million campaign account that the Lowell Democrat plans to hold on to.

Current and former members of Congress are given broad latitude on how they can use campaign funds as long as the spending relates to politics or advances their political interests.

Meehan detailed his spending in a new campaign finance report he filed this month with the Federal Election Commission covering the three-month period ending June 30.

He reported $145,765 in expenses for the quarter, including:

A $590 dinner for former staff members at Restaurant Thalia in New York 's theater district.

A supporters' appreciation dinner at Scalinatella Restaurant in New York City costing $990.

A $867 dinner tab at The Monocle Restaurant on Capitol Hill with fellow House members.

A $427 dinner at Morton's steakhouse in downtown Washington with House colleagues.

A dinner with House members costing $657 at Montmartre, a restaurant on Capitol Hill.

$1,743 at Butcher Boy Marketplace in North Andover for "supporters appreciation dinners."

$499 for supporters' T-shirts .

Republican political consultant Jim Nuzzo said Meehan's recent spending underscores the need to tighten campaign finance laws.

"I'm not attacking Marty for being profligate or illegal or immoral," Nuzzo said. "He's doing what the game is. . . . He's got this big chunk of change. He views it essentially as his slush fund and the law allows him to do that."

On June 30, the day before he stepped down from Congress, Meehan wrote a $3,800 check to Lenzi's Catering Service Inc. in Dracut, Mass. The money was advance payment for a July 28 "appreciation clambake" for former staff members.

Meehan wrote $4,000 checks to his nine fellow House members from Massachusetts and a few other congressional colleagues from across the country.

He spent $340 on four Red Sox tickets for Dave Trahan, a top Meehan fund-raiser.

Meehan shelled out another $585 for Orioles tickets so that staff members and he could see the Red Sox play in Baltimore.

Under federal campaign law, Meehan cannot make personal use of the money. He is allowed to write checks for political causes, including parties, other candidates, events, and charities. Meehan could return contributions to his donors. Or he could use it for another campaign.

Nuzzo would like to see Meehan give his leftover campaign money to the Democratic Party or to other candidates.

"Marty's getting out of the game, going into academics," Nuzzo said. "Fine. Then take the money that was intended for politics and put it back into politics."

Meehan said he has been besieged with requests for charitable contributions since word leaked earlier this year of his $4.8 million campaign account, the largest balance of any House member for the 2006 congressional election cycle.

As the departing Meehan made the rounds of farewell dinners with House colleagues in Washington in recent weeks, he said often had to pick up the tab.

"Everyone in Congress knows how much money I have," Meehan said. "It was awful."