Linda McMahon Spends $40 Million but Lags in Connecticut Race

Rich candidates break records for personal spending, but they often lose races.

October 20, 2010, 6:10 PM

Oct. 21, 2010— -- With Election Day less than two weeks away, Republican candidate Linda McMahon has broken a Connecticut state record for donating personal funds to one's own campaign coffers.

Despite spending some $41.5 million of her own money to fund a Senate race, with an additional $10 million to come, the former wrestling executive nevertheless lags her opponent by double digits in the polls.

Worth between $156 million and $400 million, McMahon is one of a cadre of wealthy candidates who are financing their campaigns out of their own pockets this season. And like many of this year's millionaire -- and billionaire -- candidates, she is falling behind in the final stretch.

According to a partial filing with the Federal Elections Commission released Tuesday, McMahon lent her campaign $20 million between July 22 and Sept. 30, bringing her total contribution to $41.5 million since she launched her campaign last year.

According to the FEC, McMahon has already spent $39.5 million, more than 10 times the amount spent by her Democratic rival, Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal.

Blumenthal has spent a total of $4.4 million -- $3.3 million just in the past three months -- of which he contributed $500,000 of his own money, according to the FEC.

McMahon's fortune was made off World Wrestling Entertainment, the professional wrestling behemoth she founded with husband Vince McMahon.

McMahon owns an $8.5 million mansion in Greenwich, condominiums in Las Vegas and Boca Raton, Fla., has $1 million in a checking account, and owns municipal bonds, mutual fund and stocks including shares of Google and Apple, according to federal election disclosure documents and a report in the Hartford Courant.

McMahon has used much of the money she donated to her campaign for a barrage of anti-Blumenthal ads. She has crowded the airwaves with commercials that depict the Democrat as a career politician, who, he admits, embellished his military record and lied about fighting in Vietnam.

Her outsize spending initially boosted her in the polls; at one point, she was within 3 points of Blumenthal. But in a Quinnipiac Poll published Oct. 16, she trailed by 11 points (Blumenthal had 53 percent; McMahon 34.)

Linda McMahon in Connecticut: Do Rich Candidates Win?

"We think based on internal polling that it's a very close race," said Ed Patru, a McMahon campaign spokesman. "And we expect a close result on Election Night. Linda has said from the beginning that she is funding this race with her own money because she will not allow special interests to bankroll this campaign in the way they are bankrolling Dick Blumenthal's campaign."

"The FEC filings are not news. Linda has said from the beginning she will spend $50 million," Patru said.

McMahon isn't the only wealthy candidate paying her way through the election. Dozens of self-financed candidates are spending big across the country, and if history is any guide, they will likely lose.

Currently, many are behind in the polls.

While outspending the competition typically spells success, the calculus of more money equaling victory does not hold true for self-financers, according to data from the National Institute for Money in State Politics.

In the last nine years, only 11 percent of self-financed candidates won their races and early data from 2010 indicates the trend may continue.

Self funding is big – and increasingly popular – business. Candidates have spent $925 million of their own fortunes in an attempt to get elected, according to Money in State Politics. That's 12 percent of all money given at the state level from all sources.

In California, Meg Whitman, the Republican gubernatorial candidate and former CEO of the Internet auction giant eBay, has poured nearly three times as much money as McMahon into her campaign.

Whitman, whose estimated net worth tops $1 billion, has spent a record-breaking $120 million in her race against Democratic Attorney General Jerry Brown.

Despite spending more money in a state election than anyone in history, Whitman, a political neophyte lags behind the better-known Brown. A Rasmussen poll published Oct. 16, gave the Democrat a 5 point lead in the election (Brown, 48 percent; Whitman, 43 percent.)

This year has seen some 55 self-funded candidates, so far, and the number could rise before Election Day, according to stats compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, which defines a self-financed candidate as anyone who contributes more than $500,000 to his own campaign.

With the exception of a few successful patricians-turned-politicians, most notably New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Democrat Jon Corzine, who won both gubernatorial and Senate elections in New Jersey, self-funded candidates historically fare poorly.

Linda McMahon in Connecticut: Do Rich Candidates Win?

"The top self-financers typically do very poorly," said Dave Levinthal, spokesman for "Bloomberg is a notable exception to the rule. We remember the guys that win, but don't remember the far greater number of candidates who lose."

An already notable loser from this election cycle was billionaire entrepreneur Jeff Greene, nicknamed the "mogul meltdown," who spent 6 million of his own dollars in a Democrat primary and lost to Kendrick Meek in the Florida Senate race.

Other millionaires trailing in the polls include former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, a Republican running for Senate in California,and Rich Iott, a Republican running for the House in Ohio.

Fiorina has donated $5.5 million of her own money and Iott, $1 million.

While running dramatically different campaigns, both candidates have succumbed to rookie mistakes typical of wealthy neophyte candidates, whose inexperience leads them to gaffe. Fiorina was caught badmouthing an opponent's hairdo into an open microphone, and photos of Iott emerged, in which the Ohio businessman was wearing a Nazi uniform.

Despite their large war chests, self-financiers often lose, by making the same sorts of mistakes, said Levinthal.

"They often lack name recognition and political experience," he said. "They lack electoral political experience and as a result have to start from scratch. They may be well known and respected in the circles they run in, but when you're a candidate you have to appeal to poorest of poor and the richest of the rich. They struggle to connect with voters and get their message out. If haven't made a compelling case, it doesn't matter how much money you have."

The number one mistake self-funded candidates make, Levinthal said, is "running against an incumbent. No matter how much money you have, it's hard to defeat an incumbent."

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