A month ago I raised the issue of Hillary Clinton's campaign debt as a complicating factor is ending her futile quest for the Democratic nomination. Time had published speculation from a Clinton aide that mounting campaign debt could create problems for Clinton, because she would have to get additional donations before she could start raising for her next Senate campaign.
The issue of Clinton's campaign debt and what Obama might be able to do about it is causing confusion. The inherent difficulty for most people in making sense of the nuances of campaign finance issues has been exacerbated by some reportage and commentary on the matter. For instance, a few days ago Josh Marshall ruminated on how Obama donors would feel if their contributions went from Obama's campaign fund in to Clinton's campaign fund.
It's not a subject worth ruminating on, because it would be illegal for Obama's campaign fund to donate more than $2,000 to Clinton's campaign.
Unfortunately Steve Benen has quoted Marshall's piece without noting that it's not legally permissible for Obama to donate money to clear Clinton's debt. Others, including the NYT, are confusing the matter by not making it clear that Obama can not give more than
$2,300 $2,000* from his campaign fund to Clinton's campaign.
Let's make this absolutely clear:
Money given to Obama's campaign, either in the past or in the future, WILL NOT end up in Clinton's campaign fund.
What Obama can do is go to his donors and ask them to contribute to Clinton's campaign. He could have his campaign send out email appeals to small donors to help Clinton pay off her debt.
Helping Clinton pay off her debt would not be a simple act of altruism by Obama. It would be in Obama's self-interest to help take the debt issue off the table if it facilitated her exit from the race and helped avoid the distractions of delegate challenges and talk about "taking it to the convention."
There's still the question, however, of how much Obama could really raise for Clinton, and whether it would be enough to get her out of the race. I'm skeptical that the offer to help erase her campaign debt would amount to much. Her debt is over $10 million, and it's possible she's putting more money is now to keep her campaign going. These kinds of offers are usually made when the losing candidate had taken out a bank loan for campaign debt, or had done something like put their house up for collateral in order to secure a loan. Those are the acts of a candidate who doesn't have the means to put in her own money, or simply refuses to pay out of her own pocket.
Hillary Clinton didn't borrow money for her campaign. She essentially wrote a check from her personal account to her campaign account. With their new wealth since Bill Clinton left the White House, $10 million isn't really all that big a chunk of change for the Clintons. A candidate can't carry debt from one campaign to the next, unless the debt is to themselves. Thus, Hillary Clinton could easily write off the debt to herself.
Since the money would not be necessary to protect Clinton's viability for future campaigns, donations to retire Clinton's debt would really be contributions directly to the personal and private wealth of Hillary and Bill Clinton. I don't see many Obama donors taking money from their personal pocket and putting it in to Hillary Clinton's personal pocket, especially not after the campaign Clinton has run and continues to run against Obama.
So, people worried that money you donated in the past or might donate in the future to Barack Obama might go to Hillary Clinton, relax. Whether any of your money goes to Hillary Clinton will be your decision. Unless you want it to, none of your money will end up in Hill and Bill's piggy bank.
*[The personal contribution limit increased from $2,000 to $2,300 for this campaign cycle, but the contribution limit for a campaign committee to campaign committee contribution remained capped at $2,000.]