Sometimes even the best-funded plans of politicians go awry.

An arrest, an affair, an unexpectedly hot microphone -- all can consign a campaign to oblivion, with loads of cash still in the war chest. But even without blunders, a political exit can leave candidates confronting a question they never wanted to ponder:

What happens to the campaign money that's left over?

Congressman Pete Stark -- unseated by a fellow Democrat -- faces this what-to-do-with-the-leftovers decision for the first time in 40 years. His campaign had about $217,000 banked as of Oct. 17 -- the most recent campaign filings show -- and raised at least about $89,000 more before Election Day. And Proposition 38 -- the tax-hike measure bankrolled by Molly Munger -- had about $1.27 million in the bank as of Oct. 20 for a campaign that petered out long before.

A Proposition 38 spokesman said any remaining money will be put toward "a continuation of efforts to increase school funding," while Stark's campaign manager said there's still a lot of final accounting to be done before any decisions are made.

But these accounts are but the tiniest fraction of the untold millions still sitting in campaign coffers from coast to coast after the nation's costliest election ever. The law gives candidates and committees considerable leeway as to what they can do, and past experience suggests most of the money will ultimately end up with favored charities, longtime political allies -- or as seed money for the next campaign.


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But there are also those, er, special uses. Consider former state Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, who moved $1.5 million from his Leadership California committee to his legal defense fund -- protecting him from a years-long, ultimately fruitless FBI corruption probe -- in late 2008. That's legal, because the alleged wrongdoing was connected to Perata's time in office. But you might think Perata's biggest donors would have something to say about that.

You would be wrong.

"We continue to have faith in Sen. Perata and we believe that our monies were well-spent," Lance Corcoran, spokesman for Perata's largest contributor, the state prison guards union, said at the time.

Here's a look at what a few other California politicians have done with the leftovers -- and how much money some of them are still sitting on:

Meg Whitman

The billionaire Silicon Valley executive spent a record-shattering $141.5 million out of her own pocket on her unsuccessful 2010 run for governor.

Even after all that spending, the Whitman campaign had about $94,000 in debts at 2010's end; that red ink was quickly erased, however, and replaced with a surplus as the campaign received hundreds of thousands of dollars in media refunds for ads that never aired.

Whitman can't recoup any of her personal loss because she made contributions to her campaign, not loans. So in the past year the Whitman committee has donated to the California Latino Water Coalition Foundation ($15,000); the Asian Pacific Islander American Public Affairs Association ($10,000); and the National World War II Museum ($25,000). And, as of June 30, it still had about $151,000 left.

Joe Canciamilla

Sometimes a politico keeps paying it forward -- to himself -- without even running again.

As he neared his 2006 term limit, the Democratic Assembly member from Pittsburg moved about $292,000 left from his 2004 campaign into a new committee for a 2008 state Senate run. But he dropped out of that primary, closed that committee in mid-2008 and transferred about $322,000 to a new committee for state attorney general in 2010.

At the end of 2009, he closed that committee and transferred about $252,000 to a committee he'd created for a Contra Costa Superior Court seat in 2010, then delayed that run until 2012, and then 2014.

On Oct. 1, he closed the judicial campaign committee and transferred $207,000 to a new committee, to run for Contra Costa County clerk-recorder in 2014.

So, since leaving the Assembly in 2006, Canciamilla -- now 57 -- has voiced interest in four offices but hasn't run for any; he has just given to some allies and paid a few consultants along the way. What's he going to do next? Canciamilla didn't return calls seeking a comment.

Mary Hayashi

Convicted in January for shoplifting clothing from a San Francisco department store, the Democratic Assemblywoman from Castro Valley said in July she believed voters wouldn't hold it against her as she ran for the Alameda County Board of Supervisors. This month, she finished third in a field of four candidates. Her campaign had $40,000 remaining as of Oct. 20, although she received at least an additional $7,500 before Election Day.

But Hayashi has almost $367,000 banked -- in a committee opened before her arrest -- for a state Senate bid in 2014; she also has $411,000 left in her 2010 Assembly re-election account. Hayashi's staff didn't return calls and emails seeking a comment, but a Democratic operative who knows her, speaking on condition of anonymity, said she will run for the Senate.

Just FYI: State regulations forbid spending campaign money on clothing.

Bill and Nadia Lockyer

After almost 40 years in elected office and cakewalks in his past few statewide campaigns, state Treasurer Bill Lockyer -- a giant of California Democratic politics and fundraising -- faced a tough year in 2012. He filed for divorce after his wife's drug addiction and extramarital affair ended her political career.

An Assembly member, state Senate president and attorney general before his two terms as treasurer, Lockyer has about $2.3 million banked in a campaign committee to run for state controller in 2014 -- his spokesman says he plans to run -- plus $237,000 left in his 2010 treasurer's campaign account.

Meanwhile, having won her 2010 Alameda County Board of Supervisors race in part thanks to $1.5 million from her husband's campaign fund, Nadia Lockyer resigned in April and now faces methamphetamine and child-endangerment charges.

Yet her supervisor campaign fund still had about $75,000 as of June 30. Unlike Perata, she can't use that cash for her legal bills. The crimes she's accused of had nothing to do with her office.

Mike Duvall

The Republican Assembly member from Yorba Linda resigned abruptly in 2009, right after the public heard a recording of his explicit comments about sexual escapades with two women other than his wife -- including a lobbyist with business before a committee he helped lead. He hadn't realized a microphone in front of him at a committee hearing was on.

His re-election campaign committee kept paying consultants, fundraisers and others through that November, and by early 2010 was doling out money to fellow Republicans' campaigns and charities, including the March of Dimes, a local church, some Masonic Centers and the 4-H Club; finally out of money, it shut down in June 2011.

Duvall is now a Farmers Insurance agent in Yorba Linda.

Josh Richman covers politics. Contact him at 510-208-6428. Follow him at Twitter.com/josh_richman. Read the Political Blotter at IBAbuzz.com/politics.

Some rules for leftover campaign cash
California's Fair Political Practices Commission has a 147-page manual detailing when and where a campaign committee can raise and spend its money, but here are some of the highlights on using extra cash:
  • Campaign funds may be used to make contributions to other candidates and committees.
  • Campaign funds may be used to make donations or loans to bona fide charitable, educational, civic, religious, or similar tax-exempt, nonprofit organizations so long as the donation or loan is reasonably related to a political, legislative or governmental purpose.
  • Campaign funds can be returned to the original contributors.
  • Until a campaign's funds become surplus -- when the officeholder leaves the office for which the funds were raised, or at the end of the semiannual reporting period after a candidate's defeat, whichever comes first -- money can be transferred to another committee controlled by the same candidate for a future election.
  • Campaign funds can't be returned to a candidate unless they were originally given as a loan, and not a contribution.