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McMahon Among Most Spendy Self-Funders

In the history of Congressional elections, just one candidate has devoted more personal wealth to a campaign than wrestling executive Linda McMahon. And no one has spent more in a losing effort.

McMahon, the Republican nominee in Connecticut’s fight to replace retiring Democratic Sen. Chris Dodd, loaned her campaign $49.5 million through Election Day, a figure that totals more than both Senate candidates in California spent combined.

Drawing on the loans and limited fundraising, she ultimately spent nearly
$49.6 million through Nov. 22, according to an updated filing made public by the Federal Election Commission this week.

That’s $99.48 for every one of the 498,341 votes McMahon earned in an unsuccessful effort. Democratic Sen.-elect Richard Blumenthal ultimately won with 55 percent of the vote to McMahon’s
43 percent.

A Roll Call analysis of the top 10 self-funders of all-time shows that heavy personal investment often leads to defeat. In fact, just three of the top 10 won.

Former Sen. Jon Corzine, who tops the list of all-time self-funders, is one of them. A finance executive, the New Jersey Democrat contributed $60.2 million to a successful 2000 Senate campaign. It’s worth noting that Corzine had to reach far more voters than McMahon — the New Jersey electorate in 2000 was nearly three times larger than Connecticut’s in 2010, according to tallies by election officials in each state.

And while Corzine spent more than McMahon, he had a slightly different approach than the World Wrestling Entertainment co-founder. He drew from his personal fortune to fuel the vast majority of his run, but he did not ignore efforts to raise campaign dollars from private individuals. McMahon didn’t do much fundraising at all.

Corzine raised almost $2.8 million from individual donors in 2000. While that’s just 4 percent of the money he ultimately raised, it represents donations and meaningful contact with thousands of voters.

By contrast, McMahon had little interest in private donations, raising just $110,695 from individuals and none from political action committees through
Nov. 22, according to her updated FEC filing. That’s less than three-tenths of
1 percent of her loans and the small fundraising sum.

McMahon’s spending strategy was an issue throughout the campaign, leading to the Blumenthal mantra: “People want an election, they don’t want an auction.”

But Blumenthal didn’t avoid the practice altogether either. While his final campaign filing hasn’t yet been posted, he loaned his campaign $2.25 million through Oct. 13.

It’s likely that McMahon has plenty of money left should she decide to run again.

She and her husband, WWE CEO Vince McMahon, reported income of from $9 million to $13.9 million last year, according to a personal financial disclosure released in June. The couple also owned assets valued at $103 million to $370 million.

McMahon has refused to rule out another bid for federal office, including the seat currently occupied by Independent Sen. Joe Lieberman.

Curious about the other top self-funders in Congressional elections? Here’s the rest of the Top 10 list:

3. Blair Hull (D): He spent more than $28.7 million from his pocket (including personal contributions and loans) in the 2004 Illinois Senate race. But he didn’t make it out of the primary, earning just 11 percent of the vote in a contest won by then-state Sen. Barack Obama.

4. Former Rep. Michael Huffington (R): The natural gas magnate lost a California Senate bid in 1994. Then the husband of Arianna Huffington, he spent $28.3 million on the effort but was narrowly defeated by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).

5. Ned Lamont (D): He spent $17 million in the 2006 Connecticut Senate race, defeating Sen. Joe Lieberman in the Democratic primary. Lieberman then famously left the Democratic Party and beat Lamont in the general election as an Independent. Lamont spent nearly
$9 million more on a bid for governor this year, ending another expensive effort after losing in the Democratic primary.

6. Peter Fitzgerald (R): The banking executive spent $14.6 million on his successful 1998 campaign against then-Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun (Ill.). He chose to retire instead of seek re-election.

7. Rep. Darrell Issa (R): Then a California business executive and now one of the most wealthy Members of Congress, Issa spent $13 million of his personal fortune in a failed 1998 Senate run during which he did not advance past the GOP primaries. Two years later, he won a House seat after loaning his campaign an additional
$3.1 million. Issa also helped finance the recall of California Gov. Gray Davis (D) in 2003. He will be chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform in the next Congress.

8. Pete Ricketts (R): The former chief operating officer of Ameritrade, Ricketts spent $12 million in an unsuccessful quest to defeat Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) in 2006. A national committeeman for the state GOP, he continues to be an active donor for conservatives in Nebraska and elsewhere.

9. Mark Dayton (D): The heir to the Dayton Hudson Department Store fortune (now the Target Corporation) spent $11.7 million to win a Minnesota Senate seat in 2000. He did not seek re-election in 2006, but he will become the Minnesota governor in January after spending at least $4.2 million.

10. Jim Pederson (D): The businessman spent $10.9 million in a losing bid to oust Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) in 2006. He is currently pondering whether to run for mayor of Phoenix.

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