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Super PACs live on after campaigns die

A person signs a partition to have former House Speaker Newt Gingrich placed on the Republican primary ballot in Virginia before a rally Dec. 21, 2011 in Arlington, Va.

Kai Ryssdal: Colorado and Minnesota are holding GOP caucuses tonight. Missouri held a non-binding Republican primary today.

But you know what? They're not actually the political stories of the day. That comes to us courtesy of the Obama 2012 re-election campaign, which in a change of heart, says it will now start encouraging donors to give to a super PAC that supports the president.

Super PACs are all the rage this year. Unlimited donations, unlimited expenditures. But since there are only going to be two major party candidates left standing when the primaries are done -- President Obama and somebody from the GOP side -- it seems reasonable to ask this question: What do the super PACs that supported the losers do with all of the money they raised?

Turns out the super PACs don't automatically die. They're undead, you might say. Marketplace's Nancy Marshall-Genzer has the details.


Nancy Marshall-Genzer: They've become known as zombie PACs -- super PACs whose candidates pull out of a race. For campaign finance reformers, they’re worse than any scary movie.

"Night of the Living Dead": An experience more shattering than your strangest nightmare.

There are absolutely no rules on what the zombie super PACs can spend their leftover money on. Paul Ryan is an attorney at the Campaign Legal Center.

Paul Ryan: It is perfectly legal for the folks running the super PAC to take any money in the coffers of that PAC to buy a yacht and sail off into the sunset if they chose to do so.

The zombie army includes Our Destiny, which supported Jon Huntsman, and the pro-Rick Perry super PAC Make Us Great Again. And the army will grow, as more candidates drop out.

"Dawn of the Dead": Look up the road. There’s a lot more of them.  Oh God.

And these zombies are loaded. Richard Briffault teaches campaign finance law at Columbia University. He says even after all the bills are paid, there will be substantial leftovers.

Richard Briffault: That could still be a couple hundred thousand dollars. These are committees that raised in the millions.

Federal Election Commission records show the pro-Perry super PAC has more than half a million dollars left. Donors don’t officially have a say in where their cash leftovers go. But if Newt Gingrich were to quit, the pro-Gingrich super PAC would probably listen to Sheldon and Miriam Adelson, who contributed $10 million.

Bob Biersack is with the Center for Responsive Politics.

Bob Biersack: And if they said look I want my money back or I want something else to happen, it probably would  behoove those folks to at least pay careful attention.

If they ever wanted to raise money again.  When money talks, the zombie super PACs understand.

In Washington, I’m Nancy Marshall-Genzer for Marketplace.

About the author

Nancy Marshall-Genzer is a senior reporter for Marketplace based in Washington, D.C. covering daily news.

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