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What Happens to Leftover Campaign Funds When a Candidate Drops Out?


After a disappointing performance in the Iowa Caucus, Rick Perry is reassessing his campaign. Some members of her own party are urging Michele Bachmann to call it quits. If they do drop out and they’re not out of cash, what happens to that money?

One thing’s for sure — disappointed candidates can’t console themselves by putting the dough toward a new yacht.

The Federal Election Commission has strict rules about what federal candidates can and can’t do with leftover campaign money, and the biggest commandment is that they can’t pocket it for personal use. Here’s what a campaign committee is allowed to do with any lingering cash: it can donate the funds to charities or political parties; it can contribute $2,000 per election to other candidates; and it can save the money in case the candidate chooses to run again.

In reality, though, there’s rarely a giant pot of money for losing candidates to play with. Running a campaign is an expensive proposition — Barack Obama spent more than $700 million on his 2008 White House bid — and insufficient cash is often the reason campaigns go belly up.

As for winning politicians, they’ll often put their leftover funds toward their next race. If they choose not to run, they have to abide by the same rules. Oddly, this wasn’t always the case. Until 1993, U.S. Representatives who took office before January 8, 1980, were allowed to keep any leftover campaign change when they retired.

This is one of the Most Important Questions of 2012 featured in the new issue of mental_floss magazine. Click here to get a free issue!

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January 4th, 2012

Stranger to the World


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