Texas Gov. Rick Perry's decision to drop his bid for the GOP presidential nomination Thursday raises a tantalizing question: What will happen to the big-spending super PAC that dropped close to $4 million backing his campaign?
Make Us Great Again, the super PAC set up by Perry’s former chief of staff Mike Toomey has yet to file a financial disclosure with the Federal Election Commission, but based on its spending, it appears to be the biggest of the super PACs left orphaned so far by the winnowing of the Republican presidential field. The uncertainty over its fate underscores how confusing the legal landscape has become since the 2010 Supreme Court decision in Citizens United and the subsequent proliferation of committees that are collecting and spending money in unlimited amounts on the presidential campaign.
With no precedents for the new committees and no clear direction from the FEC on the winding down of super PACs, the pro-Perry committee appears to be under no obligation to dispose of the money in any specific way.
“The bottom line is that the only thing they can’t do is coordinate with the campaigns and there is no restrictions on how the funds are spent and there is no ban on personal use,” Paul Ryan of the Campaign Legal Center said. Staffers for the committee could direct the funds towards another candidate -- say, Newt Gingrich, whom Perry endorsed -- Ryan said, or they could "buy a yacht with the money."
Sunlight's calls to the PAC have so far gone unreturned.
Usually when a candidate drops out of a race, the campaign committee is dissolved within a few months and there are restrictions on how any remaining money can be spent: It can either be given to a non-profit, to another campaign committee with the same donation caps applying or can be given to a party committee. But the FEC has yet to weigh in on super PACs, which don't abide by many of the limitations governing candidate's campaign committees, and the agency says the process of making rules for how super PACs may dispose of their money will begin only when there is a request for an advisory opinion establishing guidlines.
Check out the Sunlight Foundation's interactive roster of presidential super PACs here.