Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison may have to make up her mind quickly if she wants to run for Governor in 2006. As things stand right now, it's not clear if she'll be able to use any of her Senate campaign funds for a state election.
WASHINGTON -- Adding another twist to the parlor game of will she or won't she run for Texas governor in 2006, federal officials say U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison cannot spend her $6.5 million Senate campaign fund on a gubernatorial bid.
Campaign finance reform of 2002 did not specifically ban using federal campaign money on statewide races. However, the law deleted one phrase -- which allows federal candidates to use excess money for "any lawful purpose but personal use" -- once used to justify the transfer.
"The way the law is written, it doesn't look like they could take that money and use it for a state race," said Federal Election Commission spokeswoman Kelly Huff.
Anybody seeking a more definitive answer would have to ask the six-member election commission for an advisory opinion, Huff said. So far, nobody has.
Karl Sandstrom, a former FEC commissioner now in private practice specializing in election law, said an FEC opinion in March did not bode well for Hutchison.
Although Rep. Cal Dooley, D-Calif., sought clarification on an unrelated matter, the FEC applied a standard that would bear directly on a Hutchison bid, ruling that campaign money cannot be used for any purpose not specifically listed in federal law.
"There is no indication as of yet that the commission is reversing the decision taken in Dooley, which clearly states that if it is not identified as a permissible purpose, it's prohibited," Sandstrom said.
Hutchison, a Republican, refuses to speculate about 2006, when her Senate term expires and when fellow Republican Rick Perry is expected to seek re-election as governor.
But practically speaking, an FEC restriction means Hutchison cannot wait too long beyond November's elections to announce a candidacy for governor. Potential primary opponents already have substantial sums on hand -- more than $4 million for Perry, and more than $3 million for Republican Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn.