Terms, II

May 7, 2008 11:01 p.m.
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(See the ed.note below for a correction on what campaigns can and cannot legally do to settle an opposing campaign’s debt.)

According to the Huffington Post’s Tom Edsall and a number of others, one of the possibilities in the offing if Hillary Clinton quickly ends her presidential campaign is that the Obama campaign will not only retire the $10 to $15 million in unpaid campaign related expenses the Clinton campaign owes but will also help the Clinton campaign pay back to the Clintons personally the $11.4 million they have loaned to the campaign during the last three months.

Helping to retire an opponent’s campaign is not unprecedented and can sometimes be justified in the interests of party unity. (Remember, this isn’t just money in the abstract. A lot of it is payment to people who provided services or goods of various sorts to the campaign and need to be paid or paid back.) But using more than $10 million raised in large part by small individual donations to pay back the Clintons who appear to be worth many tens of millions of dollars simply seems wrong.

This isn’t meant to sound ungracious. I don’t begrudge the Clintons their very substantial wealth. And even for really, really rich people, $11 million isn’t nothing. But that is simply too much money raised from small givers to give to people who loaned it with full knowledge of the odds and have more than enough money to really know what to do with.

Frankly, I’m surprised that it’s even being suggested. It would be a mistake for the Clintons to ask (and just because people are chattering about it — don’t assume they have or will), a mistake for Obama to offer and one that would risk a severe backlash.

That’s not what people gave their money for.

(ed.note: I fear I was led a bit astray by Edsall’s article in Huffpo on this issue of repaying Clinton’s sizable campaign debt. Edsall wrote that “One of the most inviting [rewards to be reaped from withdrawal from the race] is the near certainty that the Obama campaign would agree to pay back the $11.4 million she has loaned her own bid, along with an estimated $10 million to $15 million in unpaid campaign expenses.” However, as DHinMI points out at DailyKos, Obama is not allowed to take millions of dollars from his own campaign and give them to Clinton’s campaign. The most his campaign could legally give would be $2,000. Any deal to help Clinton with her debt would have to be in the form of Obama helping to raise additional money on Clinton’s behalf. So anyone whose money was going to the Clinton campaign would have to know just where it was going. I don’t see any way to interpret what Edsall wrote other than as saying that Obama would actually use his cash to pay the money back. But that’s wrong. And I should have checked this out more thoroughly before passing on the error.)

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