WASHINGTON — After six months of fund-raising, freshman Sen. Maria Cantwell has paid off most of her $4.2 million campaign debt, but she mainly used her personal wealth to do it.
The Washington state Democrat loaned her campaign $3.5 million this year to pay off bank loans and debts to vendors. She still owed another $585,000 on June 30, according to campaign disclosure reports released Friday.
That means Cantwell’s narrow victory over former Sen. Slade Gorton has cost her $13.8 million in cash and personal loans. She spent $10.3 million of her own money last year.
A former executive at RealNetworks in Seattle, Cantwell reportedly was worth between $40 million and $80 million last year before her stock in the Internet media company dropped sharply in value. The stock constituted much of her wealth.
During the campaign, Cantwell made campaign finance reform her signature issue and swore off both political action committee contributions and soft money — the large, unregulated donations from corporations, individuals and unions that can’t be spent to directly help a candidate.
That has limited her to smaller individual contributions in paying off campaign debts. In the first six months of this year, she raised $1.2 million from individual donors, the same amount as her total for 2000.
Cantwell borrowed almost $3.8 million from U.S. Bank last year. To retire that loan and cover other debts, she borrowed $354,000 from Bank of America this year and loaned her campaign $3.5 million, which she raised primarily by selling more of her RealNetworks stock.
Her campaign also owed $231,000 to vendors at midyear.
"She’s made great progress since the end of the campaign at paying the people that the campaign was indebted to," said Larry West, Cantwell’s spokesman.
Separate from the campaign, Cantwell also had a personal $780,000 note outstanding, which was listed in the campaign report.
Cantwell’s 1,600-page disclosure lists scads of individual contributors — including tribes, senators, retirees and influential corporate heads.
Among them are Rob Glaser, RealNetworks chief executive and her former boss, Amazon.com chief executive Jeff Bezos, Carnival Cruise Lines chairman Michael Arison, and Howard Lincoln, chairman of the Seattle Mariners, Cantwell’s favorite team.
But Washington state GOP chairman Chris Vance said that her fund-raising efforts contradict what she promised voters during the race.
"Maria Cantwell ran a campaign telling us she was going to be different," Vance said. "She said that because she was rich she could spend her time being a senator and not a fund-raiser."
He also argued that she has maintained her campaign pledge to forgo PAC and soft money based on "the most tortured technicality."
He noted that she took $68,500 this year from other campaign committees that accept PAC contributions, as well as individual contributions from lobbyists who often run their own PACs. Vance said the money is still buying her influence.
West dismissed the complaints, saying the Republicans have to find something to criticize.
"I am a little confused if the Republicans would be happier if she were defaulting on the loans," West said. "The fact that somebody is a lobbyist is irrelevant if they are writing a personal check in support of a candidate. That is a personal choice."
He added that federal regulators don’t see the contributions the same way Vance does.
During Congress’ August recess, West said Cantwell plans to hold a few "small ticket" fund-raisers around Washington state as she visits more than 25 of the 39 counties.
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