University of Massachusetts president Martin T. Meehan, the US House’s most prodigious fund-raiser during his 14 years in Congress, is closing down his campaign account and donating the $4.35 million balance to his educational foundation, a move that essentially ends his political career.
“I’m not running for office,’’ Meehan said in a brief interview Thursday, just before his office released a statement announcing his plans for the political funds.
The bulging account had reached $4.8 million at one point — topping all other House members from both parties at the time, a stunning achievement considering he was a member of the minority party for all but 2½ years of his career. He resigned from the Lowell-based congressional seat in 2007 to become the chancellor of UMass Lowell.
Meehan, 59, said his decision — which removes one of the state’s best-known Democratic political figures from a potential list of contenders for governor or US Senate — is based on his “commitment to the University of Massachusetts.’’
Meehan, who grew in the blue-collar neighborhood of South Lowell and worked in the often raucous world of Lowell politics, was frequently seen as a potential Democratic contender for a top political office. He took a hard look at running for governor in 2002 but decided against entering the race. He considered running for Senate seats opened up by Edward Kennedy’s death in 2009 and John F. Kerry’s appointment as US secretary of state in 2013.
He won his congressional seat in 1992 when, as a longshot candidate who had never run for office, he upset incumbent Chester Atkins of Concord in the Democratic primary and went on to win against a former Republican congressman, Paul Cronin, who had held the seat 20 years earlier.
Meehan’s shut-down of his political account won praise from Governor Charlie Baker, who as a 2014 Republican gubernatorial candidate courted Meehan, frequently appearing at the Lowell campus with him. Baker’s election essentially closed any doors for a 2018 run for governor by Meehan.
“Marty Meehan has made it clear that serving as the president of the University of Massachusetts is his utmost priority and this action reinforces that point,” Baker said in a statement.
Meehan, who became president of the five-campus UMass system last July, said he will immediately donate $1 million for scholarships at UMass Lowell, where he earned his bachelor’s degree.
The rest will be used to fund educational programs that “provide high-quality, transformative opportunities,” he said in a statement. He also said he is naming the foundation after his parents, Martin “Buster” Meehan Sr. and his wife, Alice.
He credited the university, saying it had “transformed my life and continues to play a major role in the lives of citizens and in the life of the Commonwealth.”
“On a personal level, this is an expression of gratitude as well as a statement of commitment. But the real significance of the gift will be seen in the opportunities it provides for students and in the impact they will have on the Commonwealth and the world,” Meehan said.
Frank Phillips can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.