[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/11/05/art.pres.obama.ap.jpg caption="There are strict federal guidelines on how unspent campaign funds may be used after the polls have closed."]
(CNN) - So you’ve just finished a hard-fought campaign for federal office, and after paying off campaign expenses and debts, you find yourself with a tidy surplus of funds left over in your campaign coffers. What’s a candidate to do?
The campaign may be over, but there are strict federal guidelines on how unspent campaign funds may be used after the polls have closed and all the votes have been counted. Win or lose, candidates have a number of options available to them on how to dispose of any remaining funds in their campaign kitties, but not surprisingly, “personal use” is not one of the options.
Candidates with leftover funds may do any or all of the following:
· return the money back to the contributors;
· donate an unlimited amount to charity;
· donate an unlimited amount to a national, state, or local political party committee;
· contribute money to other candidates, subject to allowable federal contribution limits;
· convert their campaign committee into a political action committee;
· transfer the money to a future federal campaign account.
Therefore, if President-elect Barack Obama finds himself with a surplus of cash from his 2008 presidential campaign account, he could essentially use that money for a future federal campaign, say, a 2012 re-election bid.
The rules are slightly different for Republican nominee John McCain because he acceped public funding during the general election. McCain may exercise any of the above options when it comes to leftover funds from his primary or pre-convention campaign account. But any surplus funds from the taxpayer-financed $84.1 million he received after accepting the GOP nomination must be returned to the U.S. Treasury.
However, this may all be a moot point if both candidates spent most or all of their campaign warchests. Exactly how much money Obama and McCain have left in their accounts won’t be known until December 4 when the next file campaign finance reports with the Federal Election Commission.