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Fitzgerald Seeking FEC Clarification

As he continues to pay off outstanding loans he made to his 1998 Senate bid, Sen. Peter Fitzgerald (R-Ill.) has asked election officials to determine if those personal contributions could cause the so-called “millionaires’ amendment” to kick in for his 2004 re-election campaign.

Late last month, Fitzgerald campaign treasurer Richard Roggeveen wrote to the Federal Election Commission asking for an advisory opinion on the matter.

“Subsequent to the 1998 general election and prior to January 1, 2003, the candidate used personal funds to pay the interest on Fitzgerald for Senate, Inc.’s bank loans left over [from] the 1998 campaign,” Roggeveen wrote. “The candidate, using his personal funds, paid the bank directly as the interest on the Committee’s bank loan became due.”

Now the committee wants to know if the “continued practice” of making these in-kind contributions after Jan. 1 to pay the interest on the 1998 loans will constitute an “expenditure from personal funds.”

Fitzgerald’s campaign had made close to $5.9 million in loan repayments by the end of the 2002 cycle, according to FEC records.

As of Dec. 31, 2002, Fitzgerald listed a remaining balance of $2.1 million on an original $8 million loan to his campaign from LaSalle National Bank in Chicago, according to FEC records.

His campaign filings also listed another $22,500 Fitzgerald still owed to himself, as well as $750,000 in loans made solely from personal funds that have been “forgiven to date.”

Under the new campaign finance law that went into effect this election cycle, the FEC is keeping a close watch on the amount of personal funds that candidates pump into their own campaigns.

In an attempt to level the playing field, the so-called millionaire provision crafted by Congress increases the contribution limits for opponents of wealthy, self-financed candidates.

For House candidates, those limits on individual contributions triple once an opponent pumps $350,000 in personal funds into his or her war chest.

For Senate campaigns, a complicated formula that takes into account each state’s voting-age population must be used to determine when, and by how much, the contribution limits are raised.

While it’s unclear whether Fitzgerald — a wealthy businessman who bankrolled his first Senate campaign — intends to pump as much money into his 2004 re-election campaign, he might not have much of a choice.

Considered one of the most vulnerable Senate incumbents in 2004, Fitzgerald could face a primary challenge from Andrew McKenna, a GOP business executive, and if he survives that test could find himself face to face with another multimillionaire.

Democrat Blair Hull — the chairman and CEO of a Chicago-based securities brokerage firm — has already dumped more than $1 million into his Senate bid in a hotly contested Democratic primary and has promised to spend upwards of $20 million combined in his primary and the general election if he makes it that far.

Fitzgerald isn’t the only sitting Senator trying to pay off debt from years past.

Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) pumped millions into her own campaign in 2000 after liquidating numerous shares of stock in the high-tech Seattle company RealNetworks, where she had previously served as an executive.

But Cantwell — who has been struggling in the three years since that campaign to retire her debt — is in a different position than Fitzgerald, judging by her campaign records, and less likely to find the new millionaire provision having an impact on her past fundraising habits.

The latest available figures from the FEC show that as of Dec. 31, the Cantwell for U.S. Senate committee still had debts and obligation totaling $3.1 million — including a loan balance of $309,318 owed to Bank of America.

But while Fitzgerald is interested in continuing to use his fortune to pay off old debts, Cantwell made significant payments from personal funds to pay down her debts before the new McCain-Feingold law went into effect.

As a result, she’s no longer making hefty payments from her personal bank account to the campaign. Instead, she’s holding fundraisers to try to recoup the money she spent.

As of Dec. 31, 2002, Cantwell’s campaign owed her $2.7 million as reimbursement for the loans she made to it, according to FEC filings.

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