Consider the forlorn fate of a super PAC that has outlived its political purpose:
Once flush with cash in support of a rising Republican candidate trying to dodge Mitt Romney's mallet in this year's primary game of Whac-A-Mole. Now, sitting on a pile of greenbacks, its man beat back into the annals of presidential history and no spending goals in sight.
So what happens to the millions collected by such groups on behalf of the Rick Santorums, Rick Perrys, and Jon M. Huntsman Jrs. of this world when these would-be presidents wind down their campaigns?
In short, campaign finance experts said, super PAC managers can spend the money on whatever they like.
"Theoretically, they could buy a yacht and sail off into the sunset, drinking margaritas if they wanted to," said Paul S. Ryan, a campaign finance expert at the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center. "In a nutshell, there are no restrictions."
Well, except for two. The rules still prohibit such committees from donating directly to specific candidates and political parties or coordinating their spending with either.
That means none of the $5.1 million collected (as of its latest federal filings) by the Santorum-supporting Red, White, and Blue Fund can go toward eliminating the nearly $1 million debt the former Pennsylvania senator incurred on the trail before he left the race Tuesday.
Much has been made of the influence of super PACs on the 2012 campaign, thanks to a series of federal court rulings that opened the floodgates for such committees to accept unlimited and effectively anonymous contributions from individuals, corporations, and interest groups, and spend it just as liberally. This new kind of fund-raising also means new questions about what becomes of these caches of cash when their founding mission evaporates.
Ryan notes that, unlike the campaign committees formed by individual candidates, super PACs aren't barred from using their money on personal expenditures - a loophole the Federal Elections Commission has unsuccessfully lobbied Congress to close. But, he said, going that route "would be career suicide" for any fund manager.
More likely, a defunct super PAC might dissolve, independently spend in support of other candidates, or refocus its mission toward new causes or charities.
That said, super PACs for erstwhile Republican hopefuls have fallen, like their candidates, on hard times.
When former Utah Gov. Huntsman withdrew from the race in January, the committee backing him, Our Destiny, had less than $900 in its coffers, according to its latest filings. The Perry-affiliated PAC Make Us Great Again can lay claim to $600,000 - a tidy sum, but not likely to sway any national race. (Neither committee responded Wednesday to calls about their future plans.)
So far, both have spent their leftovers on paying bills for media consultants and other services incurred in the campaign. Neither has reported new donations since their candidates bowed out - unless you count that of unlucky retiree Alvin Shoemaker of Madison, N.J., who gave $5,000 to Our Destiny on Jan. 16, mere hours before Huntsman called it quits.
It's too soon to tell what the Santorum-backing Red, White, and Blue Fund has left in its bank. As of Feb. 29, it reported $365,000 cash on hand, but it has since disclosed half-million-dollar ad buys to support Santorum's grueling primary fights in states like Ohio and Wisconsin.
Its next reports are due next week. Its managers, too, are mum about the future, though its top donor - Wyoming billionaire and former Chadds Ford resident Foster Friess, who gave $1.7 million in all - vowed this week to open his wallet for Romney.
"Right now, it would be safe to report that we haven't yet made any announcements about the future," fund spokesman Stuart Roy said Wednesday.
Perhaps the most illuminating example thus far of a super PAC in its second act comes from satirist Stephen Colbert and Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow - the super PAC he formed for his write-in candidacy in the South Carolina primary.
Via his Comedy Central show and its sister program, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Colbert's fund managed to rake in about $1 million before it went belly-up.
And while Stewart may have joked of spending it on tiaras, the world's fanciest omelet (cooked live on air by celebrity chef Mario Battali), and airplanes to write obscene messages in the clouds, its actual outlays were mundane. Aside from paying off the show's writers, advertising consultants, and Comedy Central's corporate owner, Colbert's super PAC financed a line of T-shirts with the inexplicable message "Turtles don't like peanut butter" - now available on his website.
But, hey, it's not as if he didn't give fair warning.
"Thank you all for your donations," the comedian tweeted on the super PAC's official Twitter feed in January. "We promise to put that money to good use. Or at the very least: use."