Cantwell braces in case McGavick finances his race
Seattle Times staff reporter
Republican Mike McGavick raised more than $1.7 million in the three months that ended June 30, for a total of $4.4 million so far. He reports more than $1 million in the bank.
Democrat Maria Cantwell raised more than $2 million in the three months that ended June 30, for a total of $11 million so far. She has $6.4 million on hand.
Source: Mike McGavick and Maria Cantwell campaigns
If campaign-finance numbers released this week indicate a trend, state Democrats say incumbent Sen. Maria Cantwell will end up raising about twice as much money as her Republican rival, Mike McGavick.
That has led to a flurry of speculation that McGavick, former chief executive of Safeco, will pour his own money into the race, just as Democrat Cantwell did six years ago when she spent $10 million to topple Sen. Slade Gorton.
But the rules are different now. Since Congress passed the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance reform in 2002, candidates who face a self-financed opponent can collect much larger donations from individuals and political committees, leading to a blizzard of political money.
Last week, the Cantwell campaign filed a series of questions to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to clarify its options if McGavick were to self-finance his campaign.
During the 2004 Illinois primary, businessman Blair Hull pumped $28 million into his race, enabling his opponents, including Barack Obama, to raise their contribution limits.
The result? Eight Senate candidates raised a total of $56 million in the Illinois primary — and that was just the Democrats. Obama went on to win the race.
McGavick has consistently maintained that investing personal money in his election effort is a family decision, and so far, none had been made. Disclosure forms filed with the U.S. Senate peg his net worth at between $36 million and $65 million.
Recent campaign-finance figures show that he remains behind Cantwell in the money race, but he is roughly matching the pace set by Republican George Nethercutt when he unsuccessfully challenged incumbent Democratic Sen. Patty Murray two years ago.
For the three months that ended June 30, McGavick raised more than $1.7 million, for a total of $4.4 million. After spending on radio, television and Internet ads, he reports more than $1 million in the bank.
By comparison, Nethercutt had raised $4.7 million at this stage in his failed candidacy, with about $2.7 million in the bank.
Cantwell raised more than $2 million in the previous three months that ended June 30, her campaign reported. So far, she is well-financed, with $11 million in total receipts and about $6.4 million on hand. She debuted her first television ads July 10.
A former high-tech executive, Cantwell has seen her personal worth plummet in recent years and is not expected to be able to contribute to her own campaign. Her largest financial asset, according to disclosure forms, is between $1 million and $5 million of RealNetworks stock.
The FEC's Millionaire's Amendment, which enables candidates to match self-financed rivals, is a complicated state-by-state matrix that incrementally increases the individual contribution limits of $2,100 for the primary and general elections. It also raises the amount the state and federal political parties can spend on media efforts coordinated with the campaigns.
Congress enacted the law to level the playing field for candidates facing rich opponents, said Ian Stirton, spokesman for the FEC.
For senate races, each state has a different threshold, determined by population. In Washington, a candidate would have to give himself at least $3.4 million for his opponents to raise the individual contribution limit to $12,600.
At that point, the national and state parties also could donate unlimited funds to coordinate advertising with their candidates, instead of being limited to about $380,000 each, per election.
The Cantwell campaign asked the FEC to clarify whether Cantwell could raise more money if McGavick were to put millions of dollars into his campaign just before the Sept. 19 primary election. Because McGavick doesn't have a viable Republican opponent, Cantwell argues that any personal investment made by McGavick should trigger the Millionaires' Amendment and allow Cantwell to ask her donors to write bigger checks.
Michael Meehan, an aide to Cantwell, said about 480 individuals have given Cantwell the maximum amount of $4,200, and they are being told they may be tapped to give more.
"We have definitely alerted our supporters that if and when he [McGavick] puts a lot of money into the race, we will need additional help," he said.
Both campaigns expect to spend about $15 million each, and Meehan said another $30 million may come into the state from the political parties and other groups.
The FEC also is weighing a complaint filed by the state Democratic Party that alleges the $28 million McGavick received in stock bonuses and other perks from Safeco this year amounts to an illegal campaign contribution.
McGavick has termed the allegation "political junk."
Alex Fryer: 206-464-8124 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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