Recession doesn’t stop candidate self-funding

The economy may be in a recession, but people are as anxious as ever to spend their money trying to get into Congress.

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So far this cycle, 30 candidates have spent at least $100,000 of their own money on their campaigns for House or Senate. That is nearly twice as many as the 16 who had done so at this point in the 2008 election cycle.

The Hill’s analysis of self-funding in first- and second-quarter financial reports also found that 15 candidates have already ponied up $200,000, while just seven had done so two years ago.

In races throughout the country, wealthy hopefuls are putting a down payment on their candidacies, hoping it will lead a promising campaign and, eventually, a seat in Congress. The climb is steep for many of them, but they aren’t shying away from the challenge, despite the troubling financial times.

In Pennsylvania, former Philadelphia Inquirer editorial writer Doug Pike (D) made a splash by putting $510,000 directly on the table and not even bothering to loan himself the money (which would have allowed him to recoup it later).

In New York, businessman Matt Doheny used a $500,000 self-contribution as collateral in his unsuccessful attempt at the Republican nomination in the special election for Rep. John McHugh’s (R-N.Y.) upstate House seat. McHugh has been nominated as the next Army secretary. Republican Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava was chosen as the GOP candidate to replace him.

And in Washington state, Microsoft Vice President Suzan DelBene (D) has jumped out to an early financial advantage over Rep. Dave Reichert (R-Wash.) thanks to $359,000 of her own money.

All three contributions would have been nearly unthinkable so early in the cycle in years past, because they would have opened the door to higher individual contribution limits for their opponents. But the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the so-called Millionaire’s Amendment last year, paving the way for candidates to spend as much of their money as they would like without worrying about what it would do for their opponents’ fundraising.

It also means candidates no longer have to disclose their self-funding immediately. The amendment required disclosure when candidates triggered the rule, which set limits at $350,000. That means candidates’ self-funding is no longer apparent until they file quarterly reports.

Despite the Millionaire’s Amendment no longer providing a barrier to these candidates, self-funding expert Jennifer Steen said it probably doesn’t have much of an effect on whether self-funding candidates choose to run and/or put their money in early.

Because many candidates who fit the self-funding model come from non-political circles, she said, they often weren’t familiar enough with the Millionaire’s Amendment for it to be an impediment.

“I’ve found in my research and observing over time that wealthy self-financers seem to be immune to strategic indicators,” said Steen, a political science professor at Yale University.

If indeed self-funders have disregarded the Millionaire’s Amendment, the increase in their ranks might actually say more about their willingness to self-fund in a tough economic environment.

Many privately wealthy candidates who haven’t run for office see an opening for an outsider in this cycle’s political climate, and that has brought people like Pike, Doheny and DelBene into the mix.

With a seemingly ever-increasing number of races on the map, there is something of a premium on self-funders who can spare the national party committees from having to spend money on a given race. Some of those committees have indicated they are expected to raise less than in recent cycles because of the economy.

Special elections also account for several early self-funders. Among those self-funding at least $200,000 this cycle are the three New York special election candidates from two different races — Doheny, Rep. Scott Murphy (D) and Jim Tedisco (R), who lost to Murphy — and one candidate running for Undersecretary of State for Arms Control Ellen Tauscher’s (D-Calif.) former House seat, state Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan (D).

Also spending big money early on are repeat candidate Dan Mielke (R), who is running against Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.) and spent $332,000; physician and Iraq veteran Wayne Mosley (R), who is challenging Rep. John Barrow (D-Ga.) and has spent $200,000; and Republicans Jon Del Arroz and Brad Goehring, who are both challenging Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-Calif.) and spent $230,000 and $250,000, respectively.

Among Senate candidates, four have already self-funded $100,000 or more in the expected Texas special election, which looks like it will be held in May. While two Republicans have given modest amounts, former state Comptroller John Sharp (D) has given himself $2.6 million and Houston Mayor Bill White (D) has given himself $879,000.

In Ohio, car dealer Tom Ganley (R) has pledged to spend as much as $7 million on his campaign, including a primary against former Rep. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), and has plugged in $150,000 so far.