Jon Huntsman is dropping out of the presidential race.
So what happens to the super PAC supporting his campaign?
Well, pretty much anything. Including Huntsman himself taking it over.
As The Post’s T.W. Farnam reported when Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) dropped out of the presidential race a couple weeks back, there is little in the law that describes what can happen to a super PAC when the candidate it’s supporting drops out, in large part because super PACs are a brand-new creation of the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.
And Huntsman himself can take the helm of the super PAC, known as Our Destiny PAC, even though he is prohibited from coordinating with it prior to ending his campaign.
Here’s what Farnam wrote:
“The bottom line is the folks running these things can do whatever they want,” said Paul Ryan, a lawyer with the Campaign Legal Center, which advocates for tighter regulation of money in politics. “They can buy themselves yachts and close up shop if they chose to do so.”
Legally, spending responsibilities rest with the PAC’s treasurer, who reports to whomever is running the group.
Candidates are prohibited from using campaign money for their personal expenses, but there’s no such restriction for PACs, several campaign lawyers said in interviews.
The Federal Election Commission, which regulates campaign money, has repeatedly asked Congress to amend the law to prohibit PACs from spending donations on non-political expenses. Lawmakers, who often use political contributions for personal expenses through vehicles known as leadership PACs, haven’t followed through on the request.
Once the presidential contenders are no longer candidates, they could take over for their former aides and spend the million-dollar contributions as they wish — for a political purpose or anything else.
So, in other words, Huntsman himself can step in, take over the super PAC and use it as his own personal, for lack of a better phrase, slush fund.
It’s not clear yet that Huntsman even wants to do that (or that there’s even any money left over in the super PAC, which has been funded in large part by Huntsman’s extremely wealthy father of the same name), but we’re charting new waters here. And if nothing else, politicians have shown themselves to be resourceful when it comes to gaming campaign finance laws.
Farnam notes that the law might prohibit a candidate from using the super PAC until he or she has closed his or her campaign committee (including retiring any debts, which many candidates win up with). And federal officeholders — which Bachmann as a congresswoman is, but Huntsman isn’t — are prohibited from running them.
It appears Huntsman could try to use the super PAC to keep himself relevant over the next several years, in the same way other candidates such as Sarah Palin and Mitt Romney have used regular PACs in the recent past. The difference here is that a super PAC can accept contributions of unlimited amounts, while regular PACs have $5,000 limits.
If Huntsman has an eye on running for president again sometime down the line, a super PAC might be a way to stay part of the dialogue.
The easiest route, though, appears to be supporting another candidate – potentially Romney, whom Huntsman endorsed today. Just a couple weeks ago, a super PAC that had been supporting the flailing candidacy of Bachmann jumped ship and began running ads on Romney’s behalf.
The Our Destiny super PAC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.