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All in the family: Joe Kennedy II could boost Joe Kennedy III with old campaign cash

Joesph P. Kennedy II spoke after being elected to Congress in November, 1986. Bill Greene/Globe Staff/File/1986/Globe Staff

If they’re lucky, children can get help from their parents with big life purchases, whether it’s buying a new car or making a down payment on a home.

Maybe Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III could get some help from his dad if he decides to launch an expensive campaign for US Senate.

His father, Joseph P. Kennedy II, still has almost $2.8 million in his campaign account, leftover from when he served as a congressman from Massachusetts from 1987 to 1999.

If he wants to, the elder Kennedy could spend the entire sum on TV ads and direct mail extolling his son’s virtues, as long as he didn’t coordinate the “independent expenditures” with the younger Kennedy, said Paul S. Ryan, vice president of policy and litigation at Common Cause, a campaign finance watchdog group.


The elder Kennedy could also give the money to a super PAC, which could buy TV or social media ads supporting the younger Kennedy, Ryan said.

“The short answer is, yes, the money could be used to help his son get elected to the Senate,” Ryan said. The strictest limitations would be on direct donations to the son’s campaign account, which would be capped at $2,000.

A representative for the elder Kennedy declined to comment, and lawyers for his campaign account, called Citizens for Joe Kennedy 1998, did not respond to messages.

Joe Kennedy III in Lebanon, N.H. Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

The younger Kennedy, who is considering a 2020 Democratic primary challenge against Senator Edward J. Markey, already had more than $4.2 million in his own campaign account at the end of June, compared to Markey’s $4.1 million, federal records show.

Former elected officials’ campaign accounts are sometimes called “Zombie PACs.” Some keep the accounts open in case they want to run for office again. Others who become lobbyists use the funds to donate to elected officials they are seeking to influence, Ryan said.


The elder Kennedy, who is 66, is the founder of Citizens Energy Corp., a nonprofit that provides heating assistance to the poor. He is not viewed as a likely candidate for office in the future, particularly since his son, who is 38, was elected to the House in 2012.

Still, the father’s committee clarified in June that it has no plans to shut down.

In a letter to the FEC, William C. Oldaker, a lawyer for committee, informed the agency that it does not plan to file a termination report because no law or regulation requires campaign accounts to wind down or terminate within a specific timeframe.

Oldaker’s letter came after the FEC announced in April 2018 that it would examine the use of campaign funds by dormant committees, potentially putting pressure on them to shut down.

Former officials who close their accounts can refund their donors or give the money to charity. University of Massachusetts president Martin T. Meehan, a former congressman, closed his campaign account in 2016 and donated the $4.4 million balance to his educational foundation.

Citizens for Joe Kennedy 1998, which has invested its funds with Goldman Sachs, collected $246,000 in investment income in the first six months of 2019, records show.

The committee has made occasional donations to candidates over the years, including $2,000 to Ayanna Pressley in October 2018, just after Pressley, then a Boston city councilor, defeated Representative Michael Capuano in the Democratic primary. Pressley worked for the elder Kennedy when he was in Congress.


Michael Levenson can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @mlevenson.