The biggest self-funder of 2012

December 28, 2012

Fundraising is a major part of campaigning. For some, however, the ability to write oneself a large check mostly eliminates the burden of perpetually courting donors and worrying about the ebb and flow of incoming campaign cash.

But it doesn’t guarantee a win.

Today, we take a closer look at the biggest self-funders of the 2012 cycle, for whom wins were hard to come by. The Center for Responsive Politics recently published a list of the 12 Senate candidates and 12 House candidates who spent the most from their own pockets. Just five ended up winning their races. And among the top 10, none was victorious.

The biggest self-funder of the cycle was Connecticut Republican Senate nominee Linda McMahon, who loaned herself over $48 million through late November, according to her campaign finance report. For that, McMahon gets the Fixy — the coveted political award that we, well, made up — for top self-funder of 2012.


Linda McMahon fell short once again in her second Senate campaign. (Jessica Hill/AP)

The former CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment is no stranger to politics or spending big. McMahon spent about $50 million during her 2010 Senate bid, only to come up short to now-Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D).

That didn’t deter the Republican from making a second try at an open seat. She returned in 2012 having heeded the lessons of 2010. She sought to improve her standing among women, and laid an early foundation for her campaign. Now-Sen. elect Chris Murphy (D), who defeated McMahon by 12 points, didn’t run the steadiest campaign, providing openings for McMahon to attack.

Polls showed a close race a month from Election Day, but reinforcements Murphy received from national Democrats and the natural tilt of the state were too much for McMahon to overcome, and a reminder that money doesn't necessarily equal victory in politics. 

The nearly $50 million McMahon spent on her campaign was about five times what Murphy spent. It was also a bit more than the combined spending total of GOP presidential candidates Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum.

Dollars-wise, here are three runners-uo in the self-funding department, all of whom also lost:

* Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst (R): Dewhurst’s loss to now Sen.-elect Ted Cruz (R) in the GOP primary ranked as our biggest upset of 2012. The onetime frontrunner didn’t go down without a fight, an expensive one at that. Dewhurst -- whose campaign manager has been accused of stealing at least $600,000 from the lieutenant governor's campaign accounts, a Friday report revealed -- loaned himself over $20 million during the campaign, putting constant pressure on Cruz and the outside groups supporting his candidacy to keep pace on the airwaves in the Lone Star State’s pricey media markets. Dewhurst’s ability to self-fund was one of the reasons he initially looked so formidable.

* Pennsylvania Republican Senate nominee Tom Smith: Sen. Bob Casey (D) ended up winning reelection by about 9 points, but late in the race a poll showed Smith nipping at the Democrat’s heels. The wealthy businessman poured in about $17 million of his own money during the campaign, a hefty figure that kept him alive against the incumbent in the Democratic-leaning state. Heavy spending on television leading up to the stretch run was the main reason Smith stayed close, but on Election Day, the state that President Obama won by about 5 points went to Casey by an even more comfortable margin. 

* Missouri Republican Senate candidate John Brunner: Brunner didn’t make it out of the three-way GOP primary in Missouri, but by the time he wrapped up his campaign, he had spent nearly $8 million of his own money. Brunner tried to repeat the 2010 success of Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), a self-funding businessman who endorsed his candidacy, but ultimately fell short. 

(Don’t miss our picks for the best fundraiser of 2012, the nastiest campaign, the biggest upset, the best and worst ads of the cycle, and the best and worst candidates.) 

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.
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Sean Sullivan · December 28, 2012