WASHINGTON — Although Sen. Jim Bunning of Kentucky has dropped his bid for re-election in 2010, the fate of his nearly $600,000 campaign war chest remains unclear.
Bunning raised a total of $1,071,499 for his re-election campaign and has $595,571 in cash on hand.
His poor fundraising performance — three other candidates for his seat raised more than him during the second quarter — may have sealed his fate in the Senate race, but there are plenty of interests that could benefit from the extra cash.
Under campaign finance laws, Bunning can give the money to a political party, a particular candidate or a charity, said Michael Toner, an election law expert and a former chairman of the Federal Election Commission.
Bunning could potentially give money to Secretary of State Trey Grayson, who some leading Republicans say is the party's likely nominee in 2010. However, Grayson's announcement that he'd explore a bid for Bunning's seat strained their relationship.
For now, Bunning is mum on the future of his campaign coffer. In a statement, his aides would only say that "the campaign is working with the Federal Election Commission to ensure that all funds are handled in accordance with FEC law."
Bunning can't, however, channel money to the nonprofit Jim Bunning Foundation and then draw a salary from those funds, Toner said. Bunning set up the charitable foundation in 1996, the year he entered baseball's Hall of Fame. Every year since, he has been the fund's biggest recipient.
"They can't make personal use of these funds," Toner said.
For months, Bunning bemoaned the state of his re-election war chest and blamed his fellow Kentuckian, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and John Cornyn of Texas, for drying up campaign contributions by casting doubt about whether Bunning would stay in the race.
Given Bunning's rocky relationship with Cornyn, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, it is unlikely that he'll contribute to that organization, said Larry Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia.
Toner said there's no rush for Bunning to decide since there's no statute of limitations on using the funds.
For example, U.S. Secretary of State and former presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton still has $3 million from her presidential and Senate bids. A staff of eight manages the books.
Former New Jersey Senator turned lobbyist Robert Torricelli sparked controversy when he ended his 2002 re-election bid then later gave some of the $2.9 million left from his campaign war chest to lawmakers with business ties, including former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.