Angle’s Losing Nevada Bid Was Cash Juggernaut

Posted December 10, 2010 at 5:42pm

She didn’t win, but campaign finance records made public late last week suggest that Sharron Angle captured the energy of the national tea party movement perhaps better than any other Congressional candidate in 2010. And the Nevada Republican has no plans to give it up.

A former local legislator little-known even in her own state before she took on the Senate’s most powerful Democrat, Angle raised more campaign cash from donors than anyone else last cycle, drawing on a national network of conservative activists to raise a whopping $27 million through Election Day. That’s $4.4 million more than her opponent, Democratic Sen. Harry Reid, and millions more than others in more expensive media markets, according to a batch of post-election finance reports filed last week with the Federal Election Commission. Only self-financing candidates such as Linda McMahon in Connecticut were able to spend more.

Even having lost her election by more than 5 points, Angle’s fundraising prowess may lead to a continued role on the national stage.

Her campaign tells Roll Call that she’s continued to collect money from “several thousand donors” since the election. And in recent days, she has become the face of a conservative political action committee, the Patriot Caucus, which expects to play prominently in national politics in 2012.

“Sharron was able to build one of the best small-donor lists in the nation, consisting of more than 265,000 contributors across the country,” Angle spokesman Jarrod Agen told Roll Call. “Small-dollar donors traditionally remain loyal even after a campaign.”

Angle has expressed interest in running for Nevada’s 3rd district in 2012.

Angle bested the fundraising totals of California Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer ($25.7 million), Reid ($22.6 million), and fellow tea party favorite, Florida Sen.-elect Marco Rubio ($20 million). Angle also shattered the impressive numbers of tea party darling Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.), who led all House candidates this cycle by generating $13.3 million.

In becoming the nation’s top fundraiser, Angle largely avoided contributions from well-funded political action committees, relying instead on a river of smaller donations from individuals across the country. Almost half of her total receipts — $14.7 million — were checks of less than $200. And 98.5 percent of all donations came from individuals, but she paid for that haul in part by using firms to help collect conservative donors by the thousands.

Finance reports show that Angle ultimately spent every penny she raised. And then some.

While she attacked irresponsible spending on the campaign trail, her campaign reported unpaid debts of $636,000 as of Nov. 22. Offset by about $292,000 in cash on hand, she finished $334,000 in the red. Many candidates report debt associated with personal loans, but Angle’s debts were exclusively unpaid bills, largely with companies that helped facilitate her national fundraising apparatus.

She owed the fundraising firm Base Connect Inc. almost $225,000 for “direct mail creatives,” according to last week’s FEC filing.

The firm’s questionable tactics and high burn rates have been the subject of stories in this newspaper. Base Connect has been used by several conservatives with national name recognition, including Rep.-elect Allen West (Fla.).

The pitch for Base Connect, formerly known as BMW Direct, is simple: A campaign might not net much cash during most of the campaign while donors are prospected, but the candidate will have ample funds to spend in the final stretch of the race once those donors are farmed.

Other unpaid bills tucked in Angle’s reports included $142,000 to Legacy List Inc. for “list acquisition,” $74,000 to Integram of Fairfax, Va., for “direct mail printing” and another $122,000 to UPS Innovations, also for “direct mail printing,” all expenses that suggest Angle was casting a wide national net to raise money. She had donors from all over the country, with tea partyers from Delaware to Minnesota saying they’d sent her cash.

Several companies on Angle’s debt list contacted by Roll Call did not return messages or declined to comment. “UPS will not discuss the billing status of any individual customer,” company spokesman Norman Black said.

Had she won, Angle no doubt would have had little problem paying her bills.

Both Reid and Rubio, for example, reported unpaid debts. Reid had $419,000 and Rubio had $939,000 as of Nov. 22. But having secured seats in the nation’s most powerful institution for the next six years, both can easily turn to K Street lobbyists and others to erase their debt.

Rubio already has. Florida’s next Senator benefited from a debt retirement fundraiser earlier this month at Hotel George hosted by some of the GOP’s top Washington lobbyists. They included Walmart’s political action committee; the head of the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors; Charlie Black, a principal in Prime Policy Group; and Drew Maloney, managing director of Ogilvy Government Relations.

With little hope of raising money from well-financed lobbyists, Angle’s campaign has turned to its small donor base to pay off outstanding debts.

“As it was highly successful during the campaign, that list will be used to retire the debt. Already, several thousand donors have continued to give to Sharron since Election Day,” Agen said. “Given that Sharron was able to raise over $27 million in a short time frame, the existing debt shouldn’t be too much to overcome.”

Agen declined to answer questions about Angle’s role in the Patriots Caucus PAC, which established a website in recent days featuring a large photo of the smiling 61-year-old bordered by the words, “She’s back!”

“The tea party movement stood with me through a hard fought race against Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. It’s time for me to give back and help our movement take the fight against big government to a new level,” Angle wrote on the site, which offers a very brief and general strategy for the next cycle.

The PAC cites plans to establish offices in Iowa, New Hampshire, Florida and Nevada in “early 2011,” perhaps an attempt to influence the Republican presidential primary.

“Please join the Patriot Caucus and be prepared to engage in a nationwide action campaign aimed at winning in 2012 and beyond!” Angle wrote.