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Presidential Campaign Debt Can Linger For Decades

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Presidential Campaign Debt Can Linger For Decades

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Presidential Campaign Debt Can Linger For Decades

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And we have a word about politicians who may not be campaigning but are still busy fundraising. One reached out to NPR's Kitty Eisele.

KITTY EISELE: I got an email a few weeks ago. Dear Kit, it said, I'm writing to you about a special woman in my life, and in yours - my wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Secretary HILLARY CLINTON (U.S. Secretary of State): We're going on, we're going strong, and we're going all the way.

(Soundbite of cheering)

EISELE: That's Hillary Clinton back in 2008, when she was running for president. I was on her mailing list then - as a journalist, not as a donor. But now Bill Clinton was inviting me to buy a lottery ticket to win a day with him in New York, and the cost of my ticket would help pay off his wife's campaign debt. That's right, debt from the last election, three years ago.

Professor ANTHONY CORRADO (Colby College): It's not surprising.

EISELE: That's Anthony Corrado, a campaign finance expert at Colby College.

Prof. CORRADO: It's often the case that candidates, particularly losing candidates, will end a campaign with outstanding debt.

EISELE: At last count, that outstanding debt for Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign totaled $329,010 for consulting, polling and mail expenses. And according to Corrado, that's not much of a balance, or even a very long time to carry campaign debt.

Remember this?

(Soundbite of archived recording)

Mr. BOB EDWARDS (NPR): Democratic Senator John Glenn has reorganized his campaign in what seems to be a last ditch attempt to save his presidential candidacy.

EISELE: Probably not, because John Glenn ran for president in 1984. And he just finished paying off his presidential campaign bills in 2007. Glenn spent 23 years trying to do the right thing, but the rules often worked against him. When Glenn ran, individual donors could only give $1,000 to a candidate. By the end, he owed three million. That's a lot of small donors to hunt down for a campaign that folded the year Apple introduced the Mac.

Anthony Corrado...

Prof. CORRADO: One of things about American politics is that losers are quickly forgotten and it's very hard to find donors who are willing to give to pay off past debts.

EISELE: What's more, campaign debt owed to banks, credit cards or companies can't be forgiven. That would be considered an illegal contribution. So whether you're a small company or a big bank, you're helping pay for our elections by carrying some of the expenses.

Although many creditors and vendors have realized they'll probably never get their money back, those debts will stay on the books at the Federal Election Commission, like ghosts from elections past, haunting former candidates for years to come.

INSKEEP: Kitty Eisele is an editor right here on MORNING EDITION.

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