Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was sitting on more than $900,000 in campaign cash when she stepped down from office last week, a hoard that she could use to help the Democratic Party hold onto her southern Arizona seat, support a charity, or stash away for an eventual return to politics.
Giffords campaign coffers were boosted by fundraisers held by fellow elected Democrats in Washington after she was wounded in January 2011 while meeting constituents at a Tucson grocery store. Individuals from across the nation also sent her checks.
Giffords resigned Jan. 25 to focus on her ongoing recovery from the traumatic brain injury she suffered when a gunman opened fire at a “Congress on Your Corner” event. Six people were killed and Giffords and 12 others wounded.
The week before she was wounded, she had $285,501 in cash on hand to support her 2012 re-election effort. When her campaign filed its 2011 year-end report with the Federal Election Commission on Monday, she had $927,445 in the bank. All told, she brought in more than $974,000 in 2011.
Federal campaign finance laws strictly limit how a candidate handles leftover cash. Giffords can’t keep the money for personal use, but she can keep the money in the account indefinitely for use in a future federal campaign.
She also can give all or some of it to a national, state or local party, but she’s not allowed to tell the party how to spend the money. She can donate $2,000 to a candidate for federal office. She can also give the money to a charity of her choice.
Giffords’ campaign finance director, Hayley Zachary, was not immediately available to answer questions about plans for spending the money.
Andy Barr, spokesman for the state Democratic Party, said the decision on what to do with the money is Giffords’ and not one that has been discussed in party circles.
“These are her resources she was able to build,” Barr said. “We, like many Arizonans, hope that she will return to politics someday, and if she does she will have a pretty big war chest to do that.”
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer has called a special election for the 8th Congressional District to fill the vacancy created by Giffords’ resignation, with a primary to be held April 17 and a general election on June 12.
That will be followed by a regular primary and general election, in August and November, respectively, to fill a two-year term in Giffords’ newly redrawn and renumbered 2nd Congressional district.
One Democrat, state Rep. Matt Heinz has announced his intention to run in both the special and general elections, and at least two other Democratic state lawmakers are reportedly interested. Democrats are also waiting for Giffords to announce who she may endorse, a nod that would likely put that person in the front-runner position.
Republican state Sen. Frank Antenori announced his candidacy last week, and 2010 Republican nominee Jesse Kelly and sports announcer Dave Sitton plan announcements on their intentions this week.