Here's what happens to Biden's campaign funds if he withdraws

First lady Jill Biden and second gentleman Douglass Emhoff watch as President Joe Biden raises the hand of Vice President Kamala Harris on the balcony of the White House.
President Biden raises the hand of Vice President Kamala Harris from the balcony of the White House on July 4. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

President Biden is insisting he won’t back down to mounting pressure from his party to withdraw from the 2024 race after his halting debate performance raised questions about his ability to defeat Republican Donald Trump and serve out the next four years.

Regardless of that decision, his campaign war chest is sure to be a major focus of the campaign.

Major Democratic donors just announced a new effort this week, Next Generation PAC, that aims to raise $100 million in support of Biden’s replacement nominee. Or, if Biden holds on to the Democratic nomination — as he has repeatedly said he will — the donors would spend their money on down-ballot races.

If Biden were to change his mind, there are also significant questions about where his campaign’s millions of dollars would go. If Vice President Kamala Harris is the new nominee, will she get access to those funds? If one of the other rumored Democratic options gets picked, can they use that money?

Here’s a breakdown.

The Biden team announced it raised $127 million in June, bringing its cash on hand to $240 million across multiple committees. It said $33 million was raised during the debate and in its aftermath. A year ago, the campaign said it planned to raise and spend $2 billion throughout the election. These figures include not only the Biden campaign but also the Democratic National Committee and joint fundraising committees.

The Biden campaign itself ended May with more than $90 million cash on hand, according to its most recent campaign finance filing.

The Federal Election Commission (FEC) categorizes campaign funds into two categories under its presidential public funding program.

There is money collected during the primaries and then general election fundraising. Both are funneled into the total pool of campaign funds.

But if Biden were to reverse course and withdraw, Democratic delegates would then be charged with selecting a new nominee. Should there be entirely new Democratic presidential and vice presidential nominees selected for the ballot in August, the primary funds and the general election funds would be treated differently.

Harris is already being talked about as a frontrunner for the nomination should Biden withdraw. If she were to secure the party’s nod, she could access and control both the primary money and general election funds the Biden campaign has collected, according to Kenneth Gross, a senior political law counsel and consultant at Akin Gump.

She has been part of the Biden campaign since the beginning; her name is already listed on FEC filings. But Harris can only clearly access these funds if she is the presidential nominee.

“It becomes her campaign money if she wishes to claim it,” Gross said.

Harris ran against Biden in 2020 and is widely expected to seek the presidency again in the future. Accordingly, it’s hard for many political observers to imagine her readily stepping aside to serve another Democratic nominee as vice president. But if that were to happen, Gross said it “presents a difficult issue” for Biden’s campaign funds since “that presidential candidate has not raised that money.”

Ultimately, the FEC would make the final call. But the pair would not necessarily have to wait for FEC approval before spending that money.

“She could say, ‘Look, I think this is my money, I'm entitled to it.’ And go ahead and have her and whoever the presidential candidate is spend it,” Gross said.

If Democrats opt for fresh faces as their party nominees, they will have to raise their own money.

Biden’s primary campaign donations would become excess funds that could be donated to the Democratic National Committee, which could spend it on national organizing efforts. Gross said general election money would be refunded to donors, although other experts are not entirely certain whether this is mandatory, The Hill reported.

Another option would be for the excess Biden campaign funds to go into a super-PAC, a committee that can raise and donate unlimited amounts of money to finance political expenditures. The super-PAC would not be allowed to directly coordinate with Democratic candidates, including whoever the new nominee is.

“The way that the money could be used most effectively to influence the outcome of the presidential election is to convert it into an entity that does not have limits, such as a super-PAC,” Gross said.