Self-Funded Candidates Doing Well This Year

Personal wealth allows candidates to advertise rather than fundraise.

June 23, 2010 -- Self-funded candidates could enjoy one of their most successful years in congressional and gubernatorial contests this fall, campaign-finance reports and early election results show.

This year, three wealthy candidates for the House and Senate have won primaries, while a fourth, former World Wrestling Entertainment CEO and Senate hopeful Linda McMahon, beat out former congressman Rob Simmons to win the support of Connecticut Republicans at a convention in May.

The state's GOP primary isn't until Aug. 10. McMahon, who has pumped nearly $16.6 million of her own money into the race, will face another self-funder, money manager Peter Schiff. Schiff has put $550,000 of his money in the campaign, records show.

By comparison, three non-incumbents who had donated more than $500,000 to their campaigns had won their congressional races at this point in the 2008 election, according to a USA TODAY analysis of data from the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics. Self-funded candidates "are attractive to political parties because they don't drain the parties' coffers," said Sheila Krumholz, the center's executive director.

By tapping into her fortune, McMahon has "time to get to know the voters … because she's not on the phone 24-7 trying to raise money," campaign spokesman Ed Patru said. McMahon has committed to spending up to $30 million of her own funds and won't take money from political action committees or donations of more than $100.

A total of 18 candidates who have spent more than $500,000 of their own money remain contenders in congressional contests.

The 2010 election also has brought wins for wealthy gubernatorial candidates. In California, former eBay CEO Meg Whitman spent more than $71 million of her own money to win the GOP primary. In Alabama, state Rep. Robert Bentley spent more than $1 million of his funds to secure a spot in the Republican primary runoff July 13. In Maine, GOP victor Paul LePage spent more than $100,000 of his own money.

Even so, dozens of self-financed candidates fall by the wayside each year. Only 11% of the 6,171 self-funded candidates who sought state-level offices from 2000 to 2009 were successful, according to a study by the National Institute on Money in State Politics.

Texas hair-products magnate Farouk Shami said he spent $17 million of his own money to advance his bid for Texas governor this year. Just 12.8% of voters in the Democratic primary March 2 backed Shami. Former Houston mayor Bill White won handily with 76% of the vote.

"I learned that perhaps politics is not for me," Shami said.