Every election year brings a new class of wealthy political outsiders hoping to book a ticket to Washington on their own dime. The special election in Florida's 19th Congressional District provides the latest example: Republican Curt Clawson loaned his own campaign $2.65 million and doused the district with TV advertising ahead of the April 22 primary in the safely Republican seat.
But most self-funders have their eyes trained on the November general election, and many have already spent hundreds of thousands of dollars toward that goal. The new batch of federal fundraising disclosures this week will give us a fresh look at which candidates are pumping their own money into their campaigns. In particular, keep an eye out for this group of 10 self-funders gunning for House districts, Senate seats, and governors' mansions across the country:
Tom Wolf (Democrat, candidate for Pennsylvania governor, contributed at least $10 million in personal funds)
Polling has Wolf as the indisputable front-runner in the Democratic primary thanks to name recognition from an avalanche of TV ads paid for with $10 million he's put toward his campaign. His money was originally thought to have come from the success of his family's kitchen-cabinet company, but the source of those funds has lately been a source of scrutiny and controversy. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported earlier this month that $4.45 million came from a personal bank loan that can't be repaid with campaign funds. Over $1 million more came from his stake in the sale of a contracting company that was illiquid, and the rest includes gains from the stock market. "I really cobbled together everything I had," Wolf said, indicating he doesn't have much more to give. At the end of the first quarter, Wolf reported $7 million in the bank. If he makes it through the primary he'll have to step up his ability to raise money through traditional avenues to compete with Gov. Tom Corbett, who spent over $25 million in his 2010 campaign.
Bruce Rauner (Republican, Illinois governor, $6.5 million)
Republican venture capitalist Bruce Rauner earned his millions over the course of a three-decade career with the Chicago-based private-equity firm GTCR. Rauner has given more than $6.5 million to his campaign, but through the March primary he'd also raised an impressive $8 million in donations on top of that. Given that his estimated net worth is in the hundreds of millions, this shows a degree of restraint from a man who's capable of spending much, much more. His money could give him a big financial advantage over incumbent Gov. Pat Quinn, a Democrat, particularly given the high cost of paid exposure in the Chicago media market, which Rauner has been peppering with a continual stream of TV ads. Despite Rauner's seemingly inexhaustible resources, Democrats won't be at a loss for money themselves—the Democratic Governors Association and labor unions are expected to dole out big dollars to defend the party's most vulnerable governor.
David Alameel (Democrat, Texas senator, $3.75 million)
National Democrats haven't devoted significant resources to a Senate race in Texas in decades. But they're glad David Alameel did this time around. Alameel's campaign has been sustained almost entirely by a $3.75 million personal loan, and although he has virtually no shot of becoming the Lone Star State's next senator, his wealth could help Democrats avoid a major embarrassment. Alameel faces Lyndon LaRouche acolyte Kesha Rogers, who has repeatedly called for President Obama's impeachment, in a May Democratic primary runoff election, and the party would like to avoid having Rogers as a standard-bearer, even in a lost-cause campaign. Alameel, a Dallas dentist, certainly has the resources to continue to pour money into the campaign if he wants to—he also spent $4.5 million on an unsuccessful bid for a House seat in 2012.
George Demos (Republican, New York's 1st Congressional District, $2 million)
Demos is a former Securities and Exchange Commission lawyer making his second attempt at unseating Democratic Rep. Tim Bishop in this district covering the eastern half of Long Island. Through the end of 2013, Demos had loaned his campaign $2 million, which gave him an early start running TV ads, but his self-funding may all be for naught. He dropped out of the GOP primary in 2012 when the nomination appeared likely to go to 2010 candidate Randy Altschuler, and most of the New York GOP establishment is behind state Sen. Lee Zeldin, considered a top Republican recruit, in this year's primary.
Terri Lynn Land (Republican, Michigan senator, $1.7 million)
As Michigan has developed into a major 2014 battleground Senate race, Terri Lynn Land's commitment to spend $5 million on the Senate race could prove all the more crucial. Through the end of 2013, Land had pumped $1.6 million into her campaign account, which gave her a slight cash-on-hand advantage heading into 2014, and she added another $100,000 in the first three months of this year. Unlike the other Senate candidates on this list, however, Land does not have to worry about burning through her cash supply in a costly primary, and can focus entirely on Democratic Rep. Gary Peters.
David Perdue (Republican, Georgia senator, $1.65 million)
In the crowded GOP primary race for Georgia's open Senate seat, which includes three sitting congressmen, David Perdue has relied heavily on his own cash to compete. The former Dollar General and Reebok CEO has personally contributed $650,000 to his campaign through the end of 2013 on top of a $1 million loan, which together accounted for 65 percent of his total haul. He still lagged behind Rep. Jack Kingston in the overall GOP cash race; the congressman raised $4.2 million through the end of last year. Kingston's campaign recently announced it raised another $1.1 million in the first three months of 2014, meaning Perdue may have to dip back into his own account to keep pace as the race heats up, even though he said back in October he does "not believe in self-funding a campaign."
Sean Eldridge (Democrat, New York's 19th District, $715,000)
Eldridge is the husband of Facebook cofounder and New Republic Publisher Chris Hughes, and he has already put $715,000 toward unseating two-term Republican Rep. Chris Gibson in this upstate New York district. As Politico wrote last week, "that figure is sure to rise exponentially because he's promised to match each contribution he receives, dollar for dollar." Eldridge started a venture-capital firm, Hudson River Ventures, and has been investing in local businesses, but his wealth coupled with his youth and recent migration from Manhattan to the district will make it tough for him to avoid the perception that he's trying to prematurely buy himself a seat in Congress.
Mark Jacobs (Republican, Iowa senator, $521,000)
Like Perdue, Mark Jacobs used a personal cash infusion to help jump-start his campaign during the early stages of a multicandidate Republican primary. As of the end of 2013, Jacobs gave his campaign $321,000 and loaned it another $200,000, which together comprised 56 percent of all the money his campaign brought in. Hoping to set himself apart at the outset, Jacobs went up with his first TV ad in December, then aired a second in March. But like the rest of the GOP field in the Iowa, he remains widely unknown, according to a recent Suffolk poll. Given that, and Republicans from Mitt Romney to Sarah Palin endorsing rival GOP candidate Joni Ernst, it wouldn't be surprising if Jacobs's first-quarter report showed another significant personal contribution to help boost his bid.
Doug Ose (Republican, California's 7th District, $500,000)
Apparently, Doug Ose has missed being a member of Congress. So much so that the Republican who represented the area a decade ago (and left due to a self-imposed term-limit pledge) has put a half-million dollars of his own money behind his bid in the state's 7th District. Self-financing provided Ose with an early boost, as he was the first candidate in this race (one of the most competitive of the cycle) to go the air with a TV ad earlier this month. Ose is the only candidate to have reported his 2014 first-quarter totals, and while he will likely continue to lag behind Democratic Rep. Ami Bera in cash, it will be more telling to watch whether he outraises the other two GOP contenders in the race ahead on the state's open primary in June.
Mary Burke (Democrat, Wisconsin governor, $400,000)
Democrats might have overestimated Mary Burke's ability to self-fund her bid against Republican Gov. Scott Walker, and it could quite literally leave them shortchanged. Burke made her money as a former executive of Trek Bicycle, a company her father founded, and her personal wealth kept other Democrats out of the race from the start. Through the end of 2013, Burke had put over $400,000 toward her campaign, but in a recent interview with Wisconsin Public Radio she said she can't self-fund to the degree observers originally assumed. "I will put into this race what I can, but I can't self-fund it. I'm not a Ron Johnson or a Herb Kohl. I don't have that type of wealth," Burke said. Instead, she hopes to rely on traditional fundraising efforts. At the beginning of the year Walker reported $4.6 million in the bank compared with $1.3 million for Burke, leaving her with a lot of ground to cover.
This article appears in the April 14, 2014 edition of NJ Daily.