U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, will use the bulk for her $2 million campaign war chest to set up a leadership foundation.

The retiring senator is also establishing a political action committee to support “like-minded” candidates, but she’s made no guarantees that any of that money will be used to help Republicans during the 2012 election, including the candidate that hopes to replace her in the senate, Charlie Summers.

Snowe indicated in April that her campaign funds would go toward establishing a leadership institute for young women. She formalized her intentions in a release sent today, saying that $1.2 million will be directed to the Maine Community Foundation, which will hold the funds while Snowe establishes her planned nonprofit in Portland.

Another $800,000 will go to what Snowe’s campaign treasurer Lucas Caron described as a multi-candidate PAC. Caron said the PAC will be used to bring together current members of Congress and candidates interested in building consensus on legislative issues.

Caron said the paperwork has been filed to set up the PAC, which means that it could support candidates this year. However, Caron said, Snowe may be more inclined to wait until she finishes her current term before supporting any candidates this election cycle.

“I think she’s focused on finishing her term,” Caron said. “I don’t know that she’s going to be fully engaged in that activity (supporting campaigns) until she leaves office.”
Snowe abandoned her reelection bid in February, triggering speculation about how she would disperse the nearly $2.34 million she amassed in campaign funds. Federal campaign finance laws allow withdrawing candidates to transfer all of their campaign funds to another candidate committee.

However, Snowe, who had become a frequent target of scorn by the right flank of the Republican party and who departed the race amid complaints of hyper-partisanship, said this spring that she would devote a significant portion of her campaign funds to a new leadership institute. She also indicated that she would support “like-minded candidates.”

Her funds would undoubtedly help Summers, a former protege and staffer who served in her state office for nine years. Summers, who is not independently wealthy, was forced to loan his campaign $50,000 during the GOP primary to sustain a television ad buy.

But Summers’ unwillingness to back Snowe when she was running against a tea party challenger may have cost him the retiring senator’s financial backing.

Snowe’s chief of staff John Richter told the Press Herald after the primary that Snowe wasn’t making any firm financial commitment to her former staffer. Richter said she will support Summers as “the duly chosen Republican nominee,” but she wouldn’t make any firm financial commitments to Summers.

Richter also acknowledged that Summers failed to endorse Snowe when she asked for his support against tea party challenger Scott D’Amboise last year. Richter’s comment made a public a long-rumored rift between Snowe and Summers.

Lance Dutson, Summers’ campaign manager, said Friday that the campaign respected Snowe’s decision.

“Charlie worked for her for nine years and obviously regards her as one of Maine’s finest public servants that we’ve ever had,” Dutson said. “Her support in this election means a lot to him.

Obviously this is an important venture to her and we fully support what she’s doing.”
Dutson acknowledged that “it’s traditional for folks in the same party and the same state to support each other during elections.”

He added, “We certainly would welcome any support from Sen. Snowe, but we respect any of her decisions about that.”

Snowe has a long history of supporting Maine Republicans who run for Congress, including Summers, who got $5,300 from her political action committee in 2008 during his bid for the First District congressional seat.

Snowe and her husband former Gov. John McKernan have traditionally backed GOP congressional candidates.

In 2006, McKernan’s Education Management Corp. PAC donated $2,100 to 2nd District candidate D’Amboise, Snowe’s eventual challenger. And Snowe deployed her state staff to help D’Amboise gather signatures to get on the 2006 primary ballot.

Snowe employed Summers as her state director for six years, and later helped him win the post as regional administrator for the U.S. Small Business Association.

Caron, Snowe’s treasurer, said Friday that the point of the announcement was to confirm that Snowe was putting resources in place that will allow her to pursue endeavors that are important to her.
Meredith Jones, president of the Maine Community Foundation, said she was thrilled to help Snowe establish the leadership institute.

“We are pleased to help Sen. Snowe fulfill her philanthropic vision,” Jones said.