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A surprising aftermath to Mitt Romney's campaign

February 24, 2008 |  1:24 am

News from campaign financial reports that Sen. Hillary Clinton's stumbling Democratic presidential effort paid many millions of donor dollars to consultants for advice that didn't work, tens of thousands of donor dollars to hotels for uneaten vegetable trays at abandoned victory parties and 1,300 donor dollars just to Dunkin' Donuts got us thinking.

First, that's an awful lot of donuts. (Especially Boston creams.)

But also, maybe it's not such a bad thing sometimes to have rich, successful businessmen and -women with enduring marriages and large families and even larger fortunes run for the White House.

Large campaigns like John McCain's when he faltered last spring and summer, Rudy Giuliani's later when he stopped staff pay and now Clinton's have a way of spending other people's money at a pretty good clip. (Yes, Hillary put $5 million of her own money into that campaign, but 1) it's a loan and 2) she's charging interest.)

Everyone forgets about the campaign of Rep. Ron Paul, whose followers shockingly....

donated the most money of any Republican campaign in the fourth quarter of 2007 (nearly $20 million), whose followers have given more than $6.1 million more since Jan. 1 and who's carrying a debt of absolutely zero. 

Rich candidates like, say, Mitt Romney can be willing to put a large chunk of their own dough into the effort -- and not charge interest. As we recently reported here, the former Massachusetts governor and his wife of 38 years, Ann, decided together to pour $42.3 million of their own money into his ultimately unsuccessful $98-million effort.

Except for being shot at, nothing focuses your mind quicker than reaching for your own wallet.

Anyone who has ever given money to a political campaign (or NPR, for that matter) will recognize the pattern. First, like it or not, be warned the initial donation is just the beginning of your financial relationship with that operation. You just know you're gonna get hit up for more money down the road once they get your address or e-mail. And some even sell those address lists to other beggars.

Second, when that campaign ends in defeat or surrender, as almost all presidential efforts do (remember, not so long ago we had 18 of these traveling circuses), you're also likely going to be receiving additional pleas for more money to pay off the bid's debt. Chris Dodd and Bill Richardson are doing that right now.

One option available to coveted campaigners is to peddle their endorsement to a surviving candidate, whose supporters then quietly erase the bills. Why does the name Tom Vilsack come to mind? And that of Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback?

Another option is simply to quit and close up shop yourself out of the spotlight. When Romney did disappointingly on Super Tuesday, he met with his staff the next day like a businessman. He read the delegate and expense numbers, confirmed how unlikely it was to catch McCain in delegates and, surprisingly quickly, pulled the plug during a thoughtful speech to the Conservative Political Action Committee 48 hours later that left little doubt he'd be back in GOP politics.

A week after that, again surprisingly quickly during such a healing period, Romney heartily endorsed McCain and, literally, stepped aside on that stage and off.

Now, instead of a public plea for more money to cover the massive debts of his yearlong failed effort, here's what you get at the Romney campaign's shuttered website.

-- Andrew Malcolm

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