Multimillionaire Steve Forbes was the subject of quite a bit of scorn among GOP political circles for the multimillion-dollar loans he gave his quixotic campaigns for the presidency in 1996 and 2000. Less discussed in the 2008 presidential contest is the fact that multimillionaire former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is now outpacing Forbes in self-loans.
By the end of the third quarter of this year, according to Federal Election Commission reports, Romney had loaned his own campaign $17.4 million in personal funds — not including a donation of a $61,435 Winnebago.
That exceeds the $16.5 million Forbes donated to his campaign in all of 1995, and the $12.7 million Forbes had loaned himself at this point in 1999.
The campaign of one of Forbes' opponents, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said, "Steve Forbes seems intent on buying the election, and according to the FEC law, there's nothing to prevent him from doing it."
Another Republican, Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, was moved to introduce legislation limiting how much a candidate could donate to his own campaign. "What we have now is the presidency up for sale," Specter said.
Conservative activist Gary Bauer said a Forbes nomination would mean the GOP "would be sending a signal that money is the only thing that matters."
"That wealthy candidates can buy political offices, is a formidable problem," sniffed the New York Times editorial page in February 1996. "Mr. Forbes' spending spree should become an occasion for reform."
But Romney — estimated to be worth somewhere between $190 million and $250 million — has largely escaped such editorializing.
Perhaps that's because the sums of cash being bandied about this year are so astronomical, not to mention the nastiness that marked Forbes' 1996 television ad campaign against former Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kan.
Ultimately, Forbes gave his 1996 campaign $37.9 million, and his 2000 campaign $38.7 million.
The Romney campaign points out that its candidate has raised more than $45 million from around 100,000 donors. "That's an impressive amount, especially when you consider the fact that we're competing against the celebrity status of Mayor Giuliani and Fred Thompson," said Romney campaign spokesman Kevin Madden.
"With Rudy's name awareness, he should be far outpacing us in the number of people contributing and the amount raised. He hasn't."
And since Romney isn't as well known, Madden said, "we had to invest resources in the early states in order to introduce Gov. Romney to Republican voters. So, in addition to gathering resources from donors, Gov. Romney decided to make a personal commitment with his own money in order to keep growing and remain competitive. He also contributed personal funds to his campaign for governor in 2002."
As with most other campaigns, Romney's contributions dropped off in the third quarter. But one trend that may bode ill for the pending inheritance of the five Romney brothers — Papa Romney's contributions to his own campaign have increased as those from others have decreased — from the $2 million he lent his campaign in Q1 to the $6.85 million in Q2 (plus the Winnebago) to $8.5 million last quarter.
In Long Beach, Calif., last month, Romney acknowledged he had "contributed significantly to the campaign," and "I presume I will again."
He painted his campaign contributions as an indication he was his own man. "I'm not beholden to any particular group for getting me into this race or for getting me elected," he said. "My family, that's the only one I'm really beholden to — they're the ones who let their inheritance slip away, dollar by dollar."