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Cantwell Still Owed $2M From Her 2000 Campaign

Sen. Maria Cantwell’s 2000 campaign still owes her more than $2 million and does not appear to be paying her back.

The Washington state Democrat, who made a small fortune as a senior vice president of a Seattle-based Internet startup company in the late 1990s, spent $11.6 million — nearly all of which was her own money — to unseat the Republican incumbent in her first Senate run. 

Now, more than a decade later, she finds herself saddled with $15,000 to $50,000 in credit card debt and a greatly diminished bank account, according to financial disclosure forms recently made public.

Just before the 2000 elections, the stock of Cantwell’s company, RealNetworks — the software company that invented RealPlayer and other online audio and video products — plummeted along with many other dot-com startups, taking her wealth down with it.

With at least $1.1 million in assets reported last year, she is not exactly poor. But at least $1 million of those assets is held in RealNetworks stock and at least $50,000 in a 401(k) operated by the company. That’s a far cry from the at least $5.56 million she reported being worth in the year before she became a Senator.

RealNetworks’ stock is now worth about $3.40, compared with more than $90 in early 2000.

Federal election law does not require a campaign to repay any money borrowed from the candidate’s personal accounts, and as the years go by, it appears Cantwell might just be prepared to chalk it up to the price of politics. She has slowly chipped away at the loan and collected at least $58,500 in interest along the way, but she has not taken any payments since 2008.

Congress passed the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law in 2002, prohibiting candidates from being reimbursed in excess of $250,000, regardless of how much the campaign borrowed. Because Cantwell’s loan predates the law, she could still recoup the money.

Cantwell is not the only lawmaker to carry a loan for years. Rep. Grace Napolitano (D-Calif.) lent her 1998 campaign $150,000, collecting interest in excess of $200,000 while never recouping the principal, and Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) loaned his campaign $1.65 million for his 2008 primary battle but could not collect it because of the new campaign finance law.

Corrections: June 30, 2011

The original version of this article contained several factual errors. Sen. Maria Cantwell’s title at RealNetworks was misstated; she was a senior vice president. The maximum value of her current credit card debt is $50,000, not $150,000. Her assets last year were at least, not almost, $1.1 million. The minimum net worth she reported during her first year in the Senate was $5.56 million, not $11.9 million. The correct figure covered the year before her swearing-in; the story implied it was for 2001. The value of RealNetworks’ stock in 2000 should have been described as reaching above $90. Since 2000, Cantwell’s campaign has repaid her a minimum of $58,500 in interest, not $94,000.

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