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Talk About Your Political Debts

Six Vulnerable House Freshmen Ended 2002 Calendar Year in the Red

All six freshmen House Members who won their 2002 races with 50 percent or less of the vote plunged into debt to do so, new reports filed with the Federal Election Commission show.

Five of these freshmen are Republicans — Reps. Mike Rogers (Ala.), Rick Renzi (Ariz.), Bob Beauprez (Colo.), Ginny Brown-Waite (Fla.) and Chris Chocola (Ind.). Rep. Tim Bishop (N.Y.) is the lone Democrat.

As likely targets for the opposition party in 2004, these Members are working with colleagues and their respective party committees to quickly eliminate their debt and begin raising campaign cash for future races.

Bishop, who scored a come-from-behind, 2,400-vote victory over one-term Rep. Felix Grucci (R) in the eastern Long Island 1st district, showed a $195,000 debt in his year-end report. Bishop carried about $4,000 on hand at the end of last year, according to his office.

Bishop’s debts are primarily to consultants who worked with the campaign, including campaign manager Doug Dodson ($93,000) and Kevin Geddings ($66,000).

Setting a goal of June 30 to erase his debt, Bishop is planning a series of fundraisers over the coming months, said spokesman Jon Schneider.

“Congressman Bishop understands that in order to get re-elected he will have to aggressively communicate with constituents and aggressively fundraise,” Schneider said.

Bishop will hold a labor fundraiser in March and a DC PAC fundraiser in April. Bishop raised $972,000 in his race against Grucci, with $191,000 of that total coming from political action committees. Grucci raised $1.5 million, with nearly half ($728,000) from PACs.

As a sitting member, Bishop’s PAC donations are likely to substantially increase, although he raised only $7,500 from PACs between Nov. 5 and Dec. 31.

Starting in June, Bishop is set to target the Hamptons, a summer vacation spot for the rich and famous located in his district, for a series of fundraisers.

Kim Rubey, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, added: “We have met with several [freshman] Members already and will continue to do so to make sure their re-election efforts are on track.”

Brown-Waite, who defeated five-term Rep. Karen Thurman (D) in a central Florida district, has already nearly erased the $38,000 debt from the campaign, according to her Chief of Staff Brian Walsch.

Walsch noted that the Congresswoman had “good management of her budget” during the campaign so that she didn’t face a huge debt after the election. She ended the year with $36,000 on hand.

Brown-Waite held a debt-retirement breakfast during freshmen orientation and “has been very aggressive” with her approach, said Walsch. She ranked sixth among freshmen Members in PAC dollars collected since the Nov. 5 election, according to PoliticalMoneyLine.com. Brown-Waite has raised $32,200 from PACs.

The leading PAC recipient among freshmen since the election is Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), who had raked in nearly $65,000. Van Hollen defeated Rep. Connie Morella (R-Md.) in the 8th Congressional district. Rep. Max Burns (R-Ga.) led GOP freshmen with $55,450 in post-election donations from PACs.

Burns is perhaps the most vulnerable freshman up for re-election in 2004 despite his 10-point victory last November. Burns defeated ethically challenged attorney Champ Walker (D) but sits in a district drawn by Peach State Democrats that would have given Al Gore 54 percent of the vote in the 2000 presidential election. Burns Chief of Staff Chris Ingram said the Congressman has received “tremendous help and resources from some of the leadership and the [National Republican Congressional Committee].”

Steve Schmidt, a spokesman for the committee, said that “Chairman [Tom] Reynolds [N.Y.] is going to be working very closely with all of the freshmen to make sure they are on track to retire debt and have the money they need to run vigorous re-election campaigns.”

In Burns’ year-end report, only fellow freshman Rep. Candice Miller (R-Mich.) had chipped in to his campaign committee since the election.

Several other Republican freshmen carry much larger debts but are in less dire straits because they are their own prime creditors.

Beauprez, a wealthy land developer, lists $380,000 of loans to himself and a $75,000 bank loan in his year-end report. A winner by just 121 votes in the closest election of the 2002 cycle, Beauprez sits in a new suburban Denver district whose voter registration is split evenly between the two parties.

Renzi loaned himself $763,000 for his 49 percent to 46 percent victory over businessman George Cordova (D) in a northeastern Arizona seat created in the redistricting process. He has paid back more than $325,000 in personal loans.