WASHINGTON -- Democratic Party leaders said yesterday they want to know why Senator John F. Kerry ended his presidential campaign with more than $15 million in the bank, money that could have helped Democratic candidates across the country.
Some said he will be pressured to give the money to Democratic campaign committees rather than save it for a potential White House bid in 2008.
''Democrats are questioning why he sat on so much money that could have helped him defeat George Bush or helped down-ballot races, many of which could have gone our way with a few more million dollars," said Donna Brazile, campaign manager for Al Gore's 2000 presidential race.
Kerry campaign officials last night said in interviews with the Globe that the criticism is wrong-headed and ignores the fact that Kerry's campaign committee donated an estimated $40 million to various party committees to help the Democratic ticket in congressional, gubernatorial, and other state contests. The funds were left over from Kerry's privately funded campaign for the Democratic nomination, when he raised about $215 million, a record for a Democrat. Kerry accepted $74.6 million in federal funds and was restricted to that amount for the general election campaign.
Stephanie Cutter, a Kerry campaign spokeswoman, said last night that the campaign still doesn't know how much money it had left over in the primary account because some bills are still being accounted for. But she said Kerry is committed to giving the remaining balance to other Democratic funds and candidates.
''John Kerry raised more money than any Democratic nominee in history, and he gave more money to Democratic candidates across the country than any other nominee in history," Cutter said. ''Bills are still coming in, but whatever's left over will be used to strengthen the Democratic Party and help candidates across the country."
Brazile is a member of the 400-plus member Democratic National Committee, which is set to meet early next year to pick a new party chairman. One high-ranking member of the DNC, speaking on condition of anonymity, said word of Kerry's nest egg has stirred anger on the committee and could hurt the senator's chances of putting an ally in the chairmanship.
Congressional Democrats and labor leaders also privately questioned Kerry's motives. One said he would personally ask the Massachusetts senator to donate some of the money to the Democratic House and Senate campaign committees.
Three former Kerry campaign aides, also asking not to be named for fear of alienating their former boss, said they were surprised and disappointed to learn that he left so much money in the bank.
Kerry had roughly $45 million left in his primary campaign fund as of mid-October, according to his Federal Election Commission report.
His final report is not due until next month, but officials close to Kerry said he has $15 million to $17 million in that account, with no outstanding debts, after giving the DNC about $23 million and state parties about $9 million since the mid-October report.
A Kerry aide told the Globe the funds were transferred shortly after the October filing deadline, the last before the election, so as not to tip off Republicans.
In addition, the report showed that Kerry had about $7 million on hand in a legal and accounting compliance fund that he could use for legal expenses in a 2008 campaign. Officials said he raised several million more for that account since the filing.
Last summer, Kerry donated $3 million each to the House and Senate campaign committees and $2 million to the Democratic Governors Association.
While Kerry has probably given more money to state committees than any other nominee, no other Democrat has raised as much as he did. And second-guessing Democrats said yesterday they couldn't recall a candidate leaving so much money on the table after a campaign.