Blumenthal ends campaign in debt to himself

WASHINGTON-Although his U.S. Senate bid is wrapped up and he won’t face re-election for six years, Democrat Richard Blumenthal may not be taking a break from one element of the campaign–fundraising–anytime soon.

Recent campaign filings show that Blumenthal pumped another $277,000 of his own money into his  Senate campaign in the final two weeks of the race, bringing his total personal investment in the contest to more than $2.5 million.

That sum pales in comparison to the $47 million that his opponent, Republican Linda McMahon, took from her own fortune to fuel her Senate campaign.

But there’s a key difference between McMahon’s self-funded bid and Blumenthal’s cash infusion. Although all the money McMahon put up, and most of Blumenthal’s, was listed on campaign finance reports as loans, McMahon made it clear from the start that she was paying for her campaign out of her pocket.

Blumenthal may seek to get his money back, however, by soliciting campaign contributions in the coming months from individuals and political action committees to repay his loan to the campaign.

“It’s an option for him,” said Maura Downes, a spokeswoman for Blumenthal’s campaign.

Asked for a more definitive answer on what Blumenthal’s plans were, Downes said she would check. But a day later, she had still not provided a fuller response.

It’s not uncommon for congressional candidates to be sworn into office carrying a load of campaign debt.

“There are a number of candidates who are elected and whose campaign reports are effectively written in red,” said Dave Levinthal, of the Center for Responsive Politics.

CRP recently analyzed 2010 campaign records and found that hundreds of congressional candidates owed money, whether to themselves, like Blumenthal, or to vendors who provided campaign services but had not been paid.

Campaign finance reports show that Blumenthal made two loans to his campaign, totaling $2.25 million, one at the end of September and another in early October. And in the final two weeks of October, he made two donations to his campaign, one for $15,000 and a second for $262,882.

In the closing days of the race, McMahon’s campaign had questioned Blumenthal’s loans, noting that the $2.25 million was more than Blumenthal’s reported net worth and suggesting that his wife, a member of the wealthy Malkin family, was illegally funneling her money into his campaign coffers.

Blumenthal’s campaign dismissed that charge, saying the Democratic contender took out equity in his home to provide the extra cash to his campaign. Asked for more details about that move, Downes said Blumenthal “borrowed against the value of his house,” but she could not say whether it was a regular bank loan with his house serving as collateral, a home equity loan, or some other arrangement.

Whatever the case, Blumenthal’s decision to borrow the money suggests that he’s more likely to seek political contributions to pay that off, rather than just considering it a contribution from himself and kissing the $2.25 million goodbye.

The CRP’s Levinthal says never-ending fundraising is par for the course in the current political climate, whether candidates are in debt or not. “We’re in a time when many candidates are fundraising for their next election as soon as they” win their current one, he said. “It’s the nature of the way politics runs these days.”

One consolation for Blumenthal: since he actually won, he won’t have to work nearly as hard to keep the political contributions flowing into his coffers.

“Special interests love a person who actually has power, as opposed to someone who is just seeking it,” Levinthal noted, “because they’ve got a seat at the table in Washington.”

Blumenthal’s decision to dip into his own bank account came in the final crush of the country’s most expensive Senate race this cycle. That distinction stemmed almost entirely from McMahon’s saturation spending.

The former CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment had vowed early on in her bid to spend as much as $50 million on her Senate bid. Through Oct. 30, she had poured $47 million into her bid. The reports don’t tally how much she had spent, but previous reports show she’d burned through about $42 million from the time she first announced through the end of September.

She’s likely to dole out another chunk of money in the coming weeks just to wind down her operation. The two candidates’ final election reports showing total raised and total spent for the entire election will not be available until early December.

But the most recent filings make it clear that Blumenthal’s campaign was raking in significant cash in the home stretch of the campaign. The candidate raised nearly $500,000 in the final two weeks of the race, on top of the $277,000 he contributed to himself in that period.

Among the last-minute donors to his campaign were several health care interest groups. For example, the political action committees of the American Hospital Association and the College of American Pathologist each gave him $5,000. Several unions also sent him last-minute checks, including $5,000 from the International Union of Operating Machinists and the same amount from the Ironworkers union.