Discuss as:

With Santorum out, what 'suspending' a campaign means

 

Like other politicians before him, Rick Santorum announced that he is "suspending" his campaign.

It's a euphemism often employed by modern political candidates. They rarely explicitly say what they are actually doing -- "dropping out," "getting out," "quitting," saying, "Adios, amigo."

They're rarely that forthright, though Santorum came closer than most. "This presidential race is over for me," he said.

But why has this specific "suspend" language become so popular -- and what does it mean?

It's a political distinction rather than a legal one, said 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 a campaign, a candidate can continue to raise money to retire debt. A candidate would not be allowed to "terminate" their campaign -- in the technical sense with the FEC -- unless they paid off their obligations and debts.

By point of fact, Hillary Clinton's 2008 campaign has never been terminated, because of 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.

A candidate can also remain on ballots for which he has already qualified, but it can depend on state law, another election lawyer said.

Hypothetically, a candidate would also continue to be eligible for public financing -- if he applied for it. It's unlikely that Santorum, like Cain before him, applied for those funds, as he made no public comments about it.

It's also possible that a secretary of state could interpret Santorum's announcement as withdrawing from the race and that he is no longer to be included on a ballot. There are a slew of states in May, where he is expected to do well. More likely, however, Santorum's name would remain on whatever ballots he's already on.

 Cleta Mitchell, another GOP election lawyer who works with candidates and committees, said of Cain's campaign, for example, "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," she continued, adding, "I think it is essentially in this instance a euphemism for ending his campaign and had no legal impact."

A version of this report was originally posted in December 2011 after Herman Cain "suspended" his campaign.