Herman Cain today said he was "suspending" his campaign -- a distinction that is a political one rather than a legal one, says Michael Toner, a prominent Republican election lawyer and former Federal Election Commission chairman.
"It gives you more flexibility politically" and "political cover to get back in the race," if a candidate chooses to do so, Toner said. "It gives you more wiggle room."
By not officially terminating his campaign, a candidate can continue to raise money to retire debt. But a candidate would not be ALLOWED to terminate unless they paid off their obligations and debts.
For example, Hillary Clinton's 2008 campaign has never been terminated, because she still owes outstanding debts and obligations. She, too, "suspended" her campaign.
There is nothing a candidate would file with the FEC to say they are "suspending" their campaign, Toner said, and it would take months for them to officially "terminate" it, because of those debts and obligations, anyway.
*** UPDATE *** For those asking about ballot access and public financing...
Cain will likely remain on ballots for which he has already qualified, but it all depends on state law, another election lawyer said.
And, hypothetically, a candidate would also continue to be eligible for public financing -- if he applied for it. It's unlikely that Cain applied for those funds, as he's made no public comments about it.
It's also possible -- again, hypothetically -- depending on how state laws are written, that a secretary of state could interpret Cain's announcement today as withdrawing from the race and that he is no longer to be included on a ballot.
More likely, however, short of official "termination," which could take months because of debts and obligations owed (a campaign can't be terminated if it has them), then Cain's name would remain on whatever ballots he's already on.
A candidate has to apply to the FEC to "terminate" a campaign. There is no legal distinction for "suspending" a campaign. In other words, Cain has declared he will no longer be an active candidate -- signifcant politically -- but, technically, he is still one in the eyes of federal law.
And on public funding, technically if a candidate applied for public financing, then his campaign would still receive that money -- unless his campaign was "terminated."
*** UPDATE 2 *** Cleta Mitchell, another GOP election lawyer who works with candidates and committees, said, "I think this particular campaign has used that term as a 'soft landing' exit rather than the more dramatic statement of 'terminating.'
"There was a point in time when presidential candidates accepting federal matching funds would use the term 'suspend,' so they could still receive their federal matching funds after their campaigns had ended. However, Herman Cain isn't (to my knowledge) receiving the federal matching funds for the primary. So I think it is essentially in this instance a euphemism for ending his campaign and had no legal impact."