Meet 10 Millionaires Spending Big Bucks to Win Higher Office

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WINNETKA, IL - MARCH 18: Republican Gubernatorial Candidate Bruce Rauner arrives at his polling place to vote in the Illinois primary election on March 18, 2014 in Winnetka, Illinois. Rauner, a private equity manager, faces off against State Senator Bill Brady, State Treasurer Dan Rutherford and State Senator Kirk Dillard in the Republican primary. (Photo by Brian Kersey/Getty Images)
National Journal
Adam Wollner and Karyn Bruggeman
April 13, 2014, 8:31 a.m.

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.

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