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January 10, 2008 | As the once-thick presidential field thins with every primary contest, the candidates who fail to capture their party's nomination may be left with lots of money but few options for using it. According to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, as of the end of September, the candidates had stored up $33.6 million for the general election-money they can't touch unless they make it beyond the primaries. The money the candidates have raised for the general-which will probably turn out to be even higher when year-end reports are filed Jan. 31-is equivalent to the cost of putting 28,000 new Apple computers in schools that need them, buying a McDonald's Big Mac for every resident of Michigan or donating the entire Harry Potter book series to nearly every household in New Hampshire and Maine. The candidates who drop out of the race or end up losing their party's nomination won't get to use their leftover money for anything of the sort, however. Instead, under the Federal Election Commission's rules, candidates can either refund the money to their donors within 60 days after the person is no longer a candidate or get permission from their donors to re-designate it for use by the candidate's campaign for another federal office. To pay off debts from their primary campaigns, candidates can tap general-election funds from contributors who didn't max out in the primary*, with the donor's permission. If, for example, Hillary Clinton doesn't make it to the general election season, she'll have to go back to the donors who've given her at least $16.7 million toward November's election and get their permission to use it to pay off primary debts, transfer it to her Senate committee or use it in a future presidential campaign. As of the end of the 3rd Quarter, Clinton had more saved up for the general election than any other candidate, according to FEC reports, while Rudy Giuliani had the most among Republicans at $5.1 million. By comparison, the also-rans in the 2004 presidential race ended their bids with only $2.5 million among them. When presidential hopefuls abandon their campaigns before their party nominates its candidate, they often do so because they don't have enough money to compete in the primaries, much less the general election. By the time Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) and Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.) dropped out of the race, neither had raised any funds for use beyond the primary season. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democrat, dropped out of the race this week with at least $674,680 in the bank for the general election. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), who quit after the Iowa caucuses, had collected $1.5 million toward November's contest, while Joe Biden (D-Del.) had brought in $1 million. With Biden now likely to run again for Senate this year, one of the supporters of his aborted presidential campaign said he's not expecting his money back. He trusts the candidate to do what's best with the money, including putting it toward his upcoming re-election. "If you support a candidate and give him money, you're saying you'd support what he'd do with the country and with national security," said Harvey Gurland, a lawyer in Miami who gave $1,000 to Biden. "If you trust someone to protect our citizens, you'd certainly have a good feeling about what they'd do with the contribution you gave to his candidacy." Sometimes, though not often, candidates drop out of the race, or lose, with money designated for the primaries still sitting in their bank accounts. (Those who do make it to the general election can put any remaining primary funds toward that race). Although the presidential candidates raised about $400 million for the primaries in the campaign's first nine months, they're likely to have spent most of it to compete in the early-voting states. For those who finish the race with money remaining in their primary-season account, the FEC's rules for how they can use it aren't as strict. They can: * Give the money to a charity from which they don't earn a salary * Make unlimited transfers to party committees * Make unlimited transfers to the candidate's committee for another federal office, without permission from donors * Transfer money to their state committees if state law allows * Refund the money to donors * Contribute up to $2,000 to another federal candidate's campaign committee * Contribute money to state and local candidates, subject to state and local law Moreover, candidates can leave their campaign accounts open indefinitely. Former president Bill Clinton, for example, has an old committee that still has $13,000 on hand. Republican Gary Bauer, who ran for president in 2000 and dropped out, has $4,810 sitting in his account. The leftover money can't be used, however, for any personal expenses, although the line sometimes blurs between personal expenses and political interests. Six years after his unsuccessful bid for president in 2000, Democrat Al Gore gave $117,500 of his leftover funds to the Climate Project, a nonprofit organization that aims to educate the public about global warming, Gore's pet issue. The group also trained volunteers to present the slide show on which Gore's film, "An Inconvenient Truth," was based. The only limit on giving to a charity is that the candidate and his or her immediate family can't receive compensation from it. In the 2008 race, if she isn't the Democrats' nominee, Hillary Clinton could decide to donate leftover primary funds to her husband's charitable foundation, the William J. Clinton Foundation, which focuses on hunger and poverty in developing countries, AIDS and climate change. Or she could give it to the Clinton Family Foundation, which donates to other nonprofits. The Clintons do not draw salaries from either foundation, according to Hillary Clinton's personal financial disclosures. If John Edwards doesn't get the Democratic nomination, he could give his supporters' contributions to the foundation he and his wife established in memory of their late son, the Wade Edwards Foundation, which has opened computer and learning labs for high school students in North Carolina. Edwards could also transfer his leftover primary cash to his nonprofit, the Center for Promise and Opportunity, which raises awareness about poverty. Questions arose as the center, which is prohibited from engaging in political activity, financed Edwards's travel to New Hampshire and other states before he officially became a candidate. *A clarification added Jan. 31, 2008 CRP Researcher Douglas Weber contributed to this report. Capital Eye thanks Bob Biersack, press officer at the Federal Election Commission, for his assistance with this story.

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Q: What happens to campaign contributions if the candidate quits?
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