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Politics: Who Gets Dollar Bill's Cache?

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As of January 31, the Bill Bradley campaign had nearly $9 million on hand, and donations were still coming in. A good percentage of that total was spent in the dash toward Super Tuesday. (We'll know how much when February numbers come out.) Much of the remainder will, of course, go toward outstanding bills. And the rest will . . . well, where will it go, exactly?

The Federal Election Commission's rules regarding unspent cash are pretty loose. If a candidate takes matching funds, as Bradley did, federal auditors will "look at the percentage of private versus federal money and take their share back," says FEC spokesman Ian Stirton. "Once that's all done, they can do pretty much anything they want -- anything but convert it to personal use." Fair enough: A reform candidate really can't spend his war chest on a new swimming pool.

The easiest solution for the campaign would be to give its cash to the Democratic National Committee. Except that it then can become "soft money" -- the kind of financing Bradley ran against. Otherwise, the campaign can re-register as a pac and distribute the money, but only in $5,000 increments. It can hand it out as individuals do, $1,000 at a time. It can sit on the funds, saving them for the candidate's next campaign, but in Bradley's case there may not be another race. It can give the whole wad to charity. What it can't do is hand the money over to another candidate -- sorry, Al. Smallish gifts, however, seem to be okay: Bradley gave each of the 30-odd reporters on his campaign bus a silver Tiffany key chain shaped like a running shoe at his farewell press conference, easily eating up a couple of grand. (Anyhow, a Bradley representative says the campaign's money should mostly be gone once its accounts are settled.)

Presidential campaigns don't often have leftover cash: The debts of John Glenn's 1984 presidential bid are an evergreen joke in Washington. (He still owed a tidy $2.5 million as of last summer.) John McCain, who raised a lot of money late in the game, spent an awful lot before his candidacy got moving, and he could save the rest for his next Senate run. Extra money shows up more often when, say, a ten-term congressman with a huge bank account retires, or when someone drops out of a race very early after assembling substantial resources. Hey, can anyone think of a well-funded candidate who still won't formally announce his Senate bid? Who's made a career out of unpredictable decisions that irk supporters? That's right: Maybe Rudy for Senate is not a campaign but an IPO.


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