Self-funding candidates fall short in Congress

WASHINGTON -- Once again, the ability to write a personal check tocover campaign expenses has proved to be insufficient to get elected, as80% of self-funded candidates went home as losers.

Republican Linda McMahon, the former CEO of what was World WrestlingEntertainment, spent nearly $43 million of her own money this yearrunning a second time for a U.S. Senate seat in Connecticut, accordingto the Associated Press. She spent roughly $66 per vote, according toUSA TODAY calculations, as she lost to Democratic Rep. Chris Murphy.

McMahon was the biggest spender ? or some would say, biggest loser ?among the self-funding candidates for Congress this year. Of the 49candidates for Congress who spent significant sums of their own money torun for the U.S. House and U.S. Senate, only nine won their races,according to the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics.

The track record of self-funding candidates has been consistent, campaign-finance experts say.

"There is no guarantee of a win, but a lack of money is a guaranteeof losing," said Meredith McGehee, policy director of the Campaign LegalCenter. "It's never been about who spends the most money. You just haveto have enough money. There's not been a scientific formula for thedefinition of 'enough.' "

Jennifer Steen, an assistant professor of political science atArizona State University, said self-funding candidates often havetrouble translating their financial success into the political arena.

While there are successful self-funding political candidates whoalready have meaty résumés ? such as New York City Mayor MichaelBloomberg, who made a fortune in the financial news service that bearshis surname and has spent over $250 million in three campaigns ? thereare more like Meg Whitman who fall short. The former e-Bay chief, nowhead of Hewlett-Packard, spent about $142 million of her own money inher unsuccessful 2010 bid for California governor.

"Many of them have impressive credentials in life, but that doesn'treally translate into a compelling story to tell voters," said Steen,author of a book on self-financing candidates for Congress.

Democrat Suzan DelBene is a candidate who did get voters on herside. The former Microsoft executive and founder of spentmore than $2.8 million on her successful House race in Washington.DelBene was sworn in last week to complete the remaining term ofDemocrat Jay Inslee, who resigned to run for governor, and will also behis successor in the 113th Congress.

Self-funding candidates say they invest in their own races to showthat they aren't beholden to special interests. McMahon bristled in apost-election interview with Bloomberg News at a suggestion that shetried to buy the campaign.

"What would be my personal gain? I'm not looking for a new career,"McMahon said in the interview. "I've had a wonderful career. I washoping to bring a different voice and perspective and use my skills thathave been honed as a CEO bringing people together. ...I wasn't lookingfor a hobby. If I were looking for a hobby, it wouldn't be the UnitedStates Senate."


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