What happens to Biden’s campaign cash if he drops out

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What happens to Biden’s campaign cash if he drops out

President Biden would have total control over the millions of dollars raised by his presidential campaign if he chooses to drop out of the race against former President Trump, campaign finance experts told The Hill.

Biden is facing growing pressure to step back after a poor debate performance last week, during which he appeared to stare blankly into space and struggled to string together sentences at times.

The Biden campaign and White House have pushed back on calls for the 81-year-old president to drop out of the race, saying his performance over the last three and a half years on the job is more important than one performance on a debate stage. 

But as Biden’s support among Democrats falters, questions are swirling around what would happen to the tens of millions of dollars in his campaign committee, Biden for President, should the president step aside for another nominee.

Rep. Lloyd Doggett (Texas) became the first House Democrat to call for Biden to drop out Tuesday, and while Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has doubled down on her support for the president, she told MSNBC on Tuesday that it’s a fair question for voters to ask if the president has a condition or if his debate performance was just “an episode.”

The Biden campaign said there was $240 million in the Team Biden-Harris war chest — which include the campaign, Democratic National Committee (DNC) and joint fundraising committees — at the end of June.

But neither the campaign nor the DNC responded to questions from The Hill about how much of that total was parked in the president’s campaign versus the national party committee. While the DNC would still control the party committee funds, Biden would have control over his campaign committee’s slice of that overall total, although the exact breakdown won’t be reported to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) until later this month. 

The Biden campaign said it had nearly $91.6 million in cash on hand as of May 31 in its most recent report to the FEC, while the DNC said it had almost $65.2 million.

Campaign finance lawyers said the Biden campaign, and the president himself, would have a number of available avenues for the campaign committee cash if he does drop out or is otherwise unable to run — but all would run through Biden.

“Even if Biden is not the nominee, he would have the authority to direct his campaign treasurer on what to do with the remnant funds — whether that is a transfer in full to the DNC, to a super PAC supporting the new nominee or parsed out up to contribution limits to various other campaigns with the balance to the DNC or a super PAC,” Steve Roberts, a partner at Holtzman Vogel and former general counsel on Vivek Ramaswamy’s 2024 presidential campaign, told The Hill.

Tom Moore, former counsel and chief of staff to Democratic FEC Commissioner Ellen Weintraub, told The Hill that “the money can go several places.”

“It could all go to [Vice President] Harris, it could all go to the [DNC]. Or anything in between,” said Moore, who is now a senior fellow at the left-leaning think tank Center for American Progress.

Last week’s debate unexpectedly thrust Harris into the foreground, and Democrats have been weighing whether she would be a stronger candidate than Biden. While the vice president has said she fully supports Biden’s reelection bid and is not trying to replace him, she is his likely successor, although she would probably face competition.

Harris is listed as a candidate on the Biden for President account. And under federal law, “any campaign depository designated by the principal campaign committee of a political party’s candidate for President shall be the campaign depository for that political party’s candidate for the office of Vice President.”

Contributions to other federal candidates or committees would be subject to contribution limits. But “since Harris is a candidate associated with Biden’s political committee, she wouldn’t really be receiving leftover funds,” Moore explained.

“So long as Harris becomes the nominee, the campaign funds can seed her new campaign and be spent the same as if Biden were the nominee,” Roberts said.

NBC News reported this weekend that campaign manager Julie Chavez Rodriguez told a group of Biden financial backers that if he were to drop out, most of the campaign’s remaining cash on hand would go to Harris and some would go to the DNC, although she emphasized that Biden does not intend to step aside.

Neither the Biden campaign nor the DNC responded to requests to confirm the report.

Whether Harris is the nominee or not, the campaign’s remaining cash on hand could also go to charity, the DNC or a super PAC, which can raise and spend unlimited sums of money so long as it does not coordinate with the candidate it is supporting or opposing.

“The money can be used for ‘any legal purpose,’ except personal use,” Moore said.

Roberts pointed out that former Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg “made this exact move after he dropped out of the race [in 2020], and the FEC blessed it as permissible.”

The FEC last summer dismissed complaints that Bloomberg violated contribution limits when his campaign transferred $18 million to the DNC after he poured more than $1 billion of his own money into his primary race, noting the “unusual” circumstances of this situation.

The Biden campaign has not reported any donations or loans from the candidate. The vast majority of donations — 95 percent — were less than $200 during the second quarter of the year, according to the campaign.

That could make refunding donors who may be disappointed with his debate performance or if he steps aside and want their money back complicated and time-consuming.

If Biden stays in the race or Harris becomes the nominee, Moore said, “The campaign is not required to give anything back.”

“It’s totally up to the candidate’s discretion,” he added.

If neither Biden nor Harris is the nominee, Roberts said “the campaign would be required to refund contributions designated for the general election.” Other experts were less certain on this distinction.

If a candidate other than Biden or Harris is at the top of the Democratic ticket, their campaign would be starting from scratch.

“I believe they would likely be able to raise a lot of money very quickly, as it would be a true emergency (and not just a hysterical, all-caps end-of-month appeal we see every month…!),” Moore wrote.

That being said, Moore noted that “any money that is sitting in a dark-money group or Super PAC could be redirected toward the new candidate’s effort, no problem.”

Biden’s main reelection super PAC, Future Forward USA, reported nearly $92.4 million in cash on hand as of May 31. Outside groups supporting Biden have reported raising a total of $158.2 million so far this election cycle, according to the nonpartisan political money tracking nonprofit OpenSecrets, although that number is expected to jump when committees file their quarterly and July monthly reports to the FEC later this month.

“That’s one of the things that’s really sort of challenging, because there’s already that infrastructure built on supporting the respective ticket, and so they can definitely distribute amongst a large group of entities,” Ann Ravel, a former Democratic FEC commissioner, told The Hill.