Answer Man

Campaign dropouts can’t take it with them

Jweb Bush is out of the Republican presidential race but still has millions in campaign contributions.
Jweb Bush is out of the Republican presidential race but still has millions in campaign contributions. Los Angeles Times

Q: When a presidential candidate drops out of the race, what happens to the money in his campaign fund? These funds can contain millions of dollars. Who gets this largesse? Also, how do they handle who gets the delegates that were initially pledged to support the candidate at the party convention?

Sam Murray, of Glen Carbon

A: By the time former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush folded up his tent late last month, his campaign committee had raised $33.5 million along with another $124.1 million in political action committee (PAC) money. That amounted to $157.6 million, 50 percent more at the time than his nearest Republican rival, Ted Cruz.

Decades ago, Bush could have stuffed whatever was left from his committee into his pockets and walked off into the sunset to lick his wounds and then enjoy his newfound wealth. A study in the 1990s showed that a third of retired members of the House of Representatives had kept and spent millions in campaign donations on clothing, jewelry, artwork, personal travel and dry cleaning.

That’s no longer possible. Although there are exceptions and plenty of fine print, the Federal Election Commission was created in 1975 to enforce what I’m sure lawmakers would call increasingly strict rules about what candidates can do with any stash of cash they have left after a campaign.

Naturally, the first thing failed campaigns have to do is pay off all debts and expenses they have incurred. After that, the overriding commandment is “Thou shalt not spend it on yourself.” No personal planes, yachts, college tuition for the kids or relaxing around-the-world vacations to soothe the wounds from a bitter campaign.

Otherwise, just about anything else is fair game. For example, if Jeb thinks his time has not yet come and gone, he could simply hold the funds in limbo for years if he’s contemplating another run in 2020 or beyond. (Apparently, however, if he runs for an office other than president he has to ask his donors for permission to use the money for that purpose.) He could contribute up to $2,000 each to other presidential candidates — or $5,000 if he can convert his campaign committee into a PAC. He could donate unlimited amounts to national, state and local political party committees. He could donate to state and local candidates per state regulations.

But wait, there’s more! He could use it for “moving expenses,” which include costs associated with shutting down the campaign. He could give unlimited amounts to the American Cancer Society or any other charity of his choosing. He could give gifts or donations of nominal value to his campaign workers not related to his family. He could even dig out his list of donors and send their checks back to them.

Whatever they do, it must reported to the applicable commission in accordance with its rules — and here’s where the exceptions come in. After Chris Christie won re-election as New Jersey governor in 2014, for example, his campaign was allowed to use some of its war chest to cover legal fees from the Bridgegate scandal. I don’t have room for other stories like Rep. Tom Reynolds, R-N.Y., being allowed to spend $10,000 on a lifetime membership in late November 2008 to the all-Republican Capitol Hill Club. He had lost his 2008 re-election, but because he was still in office as a lame duck, the expenditure was deemed permissible under existing rules, according to a Wall Street Journal story. After 10 years as a U.S. representative, he is now a lobbyist with Nixon Peabody in Washington, D.C.

Of course, this is assuming there’s money left, something you shouldn’t take as a given despite the megabucks that are raised. Remember that after spending $750 million in 2008, Barack Obama had to up the ante in 2012 to $985 million for re-election even while his opponent, Mitt Romney, racked up $992 million in expenses. So Bush’s $157.6 million this year was just a small down payment on what he would have needed had he stayed in the race. Three days after Bush dropped out, Fox News reported he had already spent more than $125 million. Bob Biersack, of the Federal Election Commission has told that most campaign committees either don’t have much left over — or wind up in debt.

The delegate question is murky, too. When Bush retired from the race, he had won four delegates for his $125 million. Those delegates now could go to the Republicans’ July convention in Cleveland as uncommitted. Or if Bush decides to back another candidate, those delegates could follow his lead. For example, if Christie had won any delegates for his troubles, he might now be trying to convince them to back the Donald. So things are bound to get more interesting as the field continues to be whittled down.

Q: Recently, your paper published a short item about a new resale shop in west Belleville that offers furniture a woman has collected over the years from rehabbing homes. The story, however, did not include a phone number. Does she have one?

G. Dickneite, of Waterloo

A: Not only can you call 618-795-0217 before you make the long drive north, but you also can browse through their stock by searching for West End Upscale Resale on Facebook.

During my recent pop-in at the store, I was told that it will be posting pictures of its new acquisitions as they come in so customers are encouraged to visit the site frequently to keep track of what’s available so they can rush in before it’s gone. Already, however, Kelly Arnold has quite a collection of tables, chairs, dressers, bed frames, couches and other decor at the store at 6966 W. Main St. It’s in the strip mall with Ace Hardware, but it’s tucked around on the west side at the back, so don’t overlook it.

Why is everyone always talking about 'campaign finance?’ Do political donations actually matter? Washington bureau political editor Steven "Buzz" Thomma and political correspondent David Lightman explain why those donations might go further in Con

Today’s trivia

What renowned playwright may have been encouraged at age 16 when he won his first award — a third-place prize of $5 for his essay “Can a Good Wife Be a Good Sport?”

Answer to Saturday’s trivia: The more Chubby Checker asked “How low can you go?” in 1962, the higher his “Limbo Rock” climbed on the pop music charts. But it peaked at No. 2 for two weeks when it was unable to unseat the futuristic sound of “Telstar” by The Tornados in the top spot. With that hit, the Tornados became the first British group to land a No. 1 hit on the U.S. Billboard charts even as it also hit No. 1 in the U.K., Belgium, Ireland and South Africa. (Seven months before, Bernard Stanley “Acker” Bilk had become the first British solo artist to hit the top spot in the United States with his clarinet classic “Stranger on the Shore.”) Then, in 1966, the Tornados released what many regard as the first openly gay pop record release by a U.K. major label. About two-thirds of the way through, “Do You Come Here Often?” features the overdubbing of a conversation between what appears to be two gay men. It was the B-side of the group’s final single and was included on a 2006 compilation of gay-themed songs called “Queer Noises: From the Closet to the Charts.”

Roger Schlueter: 618-239-2465, @RogerAnswer