With rounds to fight running out, the self-described Rocky Balboa of politics will soon
be forced to assess the damage sustained by the most expensive primary bout in history. Sen. Hillary Clinton doled out $6.4
million of her own money to her campaign since April, her campaign told reporters this week. That brings her total cash outlay
to more than $11 million since January. And she's not ruling out spending more as she plans to compete in the six remaining
contests. If she plans to knock out heavyweight fundraising champ, Sen. Barack Obama, she may have no other choice.
Experts disagree on whether or not Clinton
will actually stick in the fight until the Democratic National Convention in August. But the
date looms large for another reason--at least, if she hopes to recoup any of the millions she has sunk into the campaign.
Thanks to a little-known provision in 2002's McCain-Feingold campaign-finance reform bill, a
campaign must repay the loan to a candidate before Election Day. In this case, that's the nominating convention. After the
election has passed, a bankrupt campaign is limited to gathering just $250,000 from contributors, which means that mocandidate.
In short, Clinton stands to lose $11,150,000. "If she wants to be repaid, she'd
have to move on that between now and the national convention," says former Federal Election Commission
chairman Michael Toner. "Otherwise, it just becomes another contribution." The campaign, meanwhile, has other debts
to consider as well. According to her latest FEC filing, the Hillary Clinton for President campaign
committee owes millions to vendors, including more than $4.5 million to Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates, the consulting
firm of her former chief strategist Mark Penn.
That adds another wrinkle to her decision to stay in the race. Time is running out to pay off friends, allies, and
vendors. Plus, by all accounts, Clinton's most ardent
supporters are tapped out, either unwilling or unable by law to donate any more. If she's going to continue competing, she
has to ask herself how many more millions she's willing to spend in a quest many describe as increasingly quixotic. In short,
how much does she care about the money? Politics guru Larry Sabato at the University of Virginia figures not much; after all, the Clintons earned $109 million since leaving the White House. "It's like Michael Bloomberg spending a billion. Would he miss it? Is she going to miss $10 million? There's
only so much you can spend yourself anyway."
Still, $10 million is no small amount of coin, even for high rollers. That's led many in political circles to speculate
that the money issue has Clinton carefully considering her options. Fundraising is tough; fundraising
for a perceived loser is even tougher. How will the candidate pay off her debt? The best shot, paradoxically, is seeking the
help of her chief rival. It's more than probable that she and Obama could work out a deal: She gets out of the race, saving
him the millions he would spend in the remaining primaries, and he would help put her campaign back in the black. That could
be accomplished by headlining fundraisers for her, and leaning on his donors to cut her a check. "It would be a matter of
mending fences," says Scott Thomas, another former FEC chairman. "If his campaign fundraisers are able to help her retire
her debt, she's in a much more comfortable position and would be far better disposed (to help him in the general election)."
Adds Toner: "That's very common, particularly when you're trying to join ranks to help your defeated colleagues."
Even with Obama's help, however, it's unlikely that Clinton could recoup all or even most of her millions. "Debt fundraising is one of the hardest asks in politics," Toner says.
"You've already lost. They'd rather give money to candidates still in the running." Indeed, U.S. News has learned that
multimillionaire former Gov. Mitt Romney, who poured $35 million into his own campaign, isn't
even attempting to fundraise to get his money back. He is simply giving it up. "Governor Romney has no plans either now or
in the future to raise money so that he can retire his debt," spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom said in a statement. "There may be
some income gained through list rentals and equipment sales that will revert to him, but that will be a relatively small sum."
Romney is instead focusing his fundraising efforts on assisting Republican nominee Sen. John McCain.
Perhaps Clinton will have the same attitude. With the McCain-Feingold-induced
deadline of the August convention ever closer, Clinton
is still ardently chasing the nomination, spending the money necessary it takes to win. In fact, she just released a television
ad in West
expense--that likens the Bush economy to a "trap door." The ad intones that "too many families are one pink slip, one missed
mortgage payment" from falling through and "losing everything." Clinton, by contrast, stands to lose only $11 million or so.