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Campaign deep in debt, Lautenberg calls it quits

Committee owes N.J.'s retiring U.S. senator more than $1 million

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Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., announced today he's retiring from the U.S. Senate, but that doesn't necessarily mean he's done fundraising.

Lautenberg's campaign committee, which has $182,000 to its name, owed the senator more than $1 million heading into 2013, according to its latest federal campaign finance filing.

The debt stems from money Lautenberg personally loaned his campaign committee during 2002 when he beat a better-funded Republican, Douglas Forrester.

Had Lautenberg sought another term, he would have likely faced popular Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker in a Democratic primary.

Early polls gave Booker a sizable lead, meaning the 89-year-old Lautenberg would need to crank his fundraising machine to its highest level ever — and potentially dump in more of his own cash — to have any chance at retaining his seat. That Lautenberg, even as an incumbent, is hurting for cash doesn't inspire confidence in his chances for re-election.

Consider that Lautenberg's neighbor in New York state, Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer, entered 2013 with more than $9.7 million in reserve and no debt.

Lautenberg could forgive the debt. Or the Lautenberg for Senate committee could continue collecting funds, which would be used to pay back its namesake candidate. Lautenberg's current term expires in January 2015, and he says he intends to serve until then.

A candidate committee by law cannot disband until it's settled its debts one way or another, which explains why hundreds of one-time candidates with no plans to re-enter electoral politics still technically operate campaign committees.

Among them are a slew of former presidential candidates, from the recent — Republicans Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum — to those from campains of yore, such as Democrats John Edwards and Al Sharpton.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton only terminated her 2008 presidential committee this month after finally clearing its debts.