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Cantwell Looks for Reversal of Fortunes

Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) is asking the Federal Election Commission to clarify the “Millionaires’ Amendment” to the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act — a move Republicans argue proves that she is deeply worried about her re-election prospects.

Cantwell’s all but certain GOP opponent, former insurance CEO Mike McGavick, is worth $36 million to $65 million, according to financial disclosure records, and while he has yet to spend any of his own money, Cantwell’s request for an advisory FEC opinion assumes that he will spend liberally down the homestretch.

McGavick has not said how much, if any, of his personal wealth he is willing to contribute to his Senate effort.

“It’s a decision he and his wife will make at some point in the campaign,” McGavick spokesman Elliott Bundy said about whether McGavick will contribute any of his own money.

Cantwell asked the election monitoring agency if she can begin collecting more than the $4,200 limit from individuals if McGavick triggers the threshold before the general election, even though he faces token opposition in the Sept. 19 primary and technically would not become her opponent until Sept. 20.

She also wants to know if any personal money he carries over from his primary account will count against the general election threshold.

“When I see Mike McGavick quoted on the record I don’t see him saying my opinion differs from that of [GOP primary contender] Brad Klippert’s ... he’s indicated that he thinks Maria Cantwell is his opponent and we want the FEC” to see it that way as well, said Michael Meehan, senior adviser Cantwell’s campaign.

Klippert is a police officer and one of two other Republicans vying for the nomination.

The Millionaires’ Amendment’s intent is to counter-balance the funds a wealthy candidate can pour into his or her own coffers by allowing opponents to break the limits on contributions from individuals if certain thresholds are met.

The formula in Senate races is extremely complicated, and made more so because how much money each candidate had raised as of Dec. 31 of the preceding year counts against the figure that triggers the amendment.

The FEC already has stated that personal contributions transferred from a candidate’s primary account to the general election account will count toward the trigger.

As of June 30 Cantwell had more than $6.4 million in the bank compared to McGavick’s approximately $1 million.

“He said he thought this was going to be a $15 million race and four months out he has raised only $4 million, indicating he would have to spend his own money,” Meehan said. “With the Sept. 19 primary, that would only give us seven weeks to benefit from the equalizing effect of the Millionaires’ Amendment.”

Meehan said Cantwell is seeking an answer now so that she has time to go back to individual donors and ask for more help.

“The timing affects what we can do and how we spend our time and resources,” Meehan said.

The irony that Cantwell, who ultimately spent about $10.3 million of her own fortune on her 2000 campaign, is worried about a self-funding candidate is not lost on the GOP.

National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesman Brian Nick said the letter also shows Cantwell — who has been running just ahead of McGavick in recent public polls — is running scared.

“It seems that Cantwell is going down a check list of things one does when worried about losing,” Nick said. “Give money and jobs to critics and potential primary opponents? Check. Look for random financial loopholes? Check.”

Cantwell recently hired a former primary opponent onto her campaign at a salary of $8,000 a month, while another vocal Democrat who had criticized her for her stance on the Iraq war agreed to serve as co-chairman of her campaign.

“It’s also ironic that Cantwell spent $10 million on her last race and now she is raising the issue,” Nick said.

Meehan noted that Cantwell, who saw her net worth plummet when the technology boom went bust, thereby preventing her from again being a free-spender, voted for BCRA.

The questions she raises do not indicate she fears McGavick, but they are a matter of practicality, Meehan said, adding: “It’s more to interpret what the rules are for the campaign in ’06.”

McGavick has been on radio and television consistently since January. While he has mostly focused on introducing himself to voters, he has run a spot contrasting his views on immigration with that of Cantwell.

“We intend to stay advertising full time on radio and TV consistently until the election,” Bundy said. “We plan on continuing to contrast their positions on issues.”

On the question of Cantwell seeking to benefit from the Millionaires’ Amendment, Bundy added: “The crux of this is whether or not this will create the appearance of some sort of hypocrisy. Them raising this issue really demonstrates the lengths that they will go to, despite their own history.”

Cantwell’s inquiries come on the heels of a lawsuit filed by Democrat Jack Davis, a millionaire who is challenging National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Reynolds (R-N.Y.), to eliminate the Millionaires’ Amendment.

He is not alone in his desire to do in the clunky provision, which was added to the bill late.

“There are some anomalies with respect to the Millionaires’ Amendment that I don’t know how they get around ... why don’t they just abolish it?” asked Cleta Mitchell, a GOP election lawyer.

Mitchell said the fact that the amendment’s regulations are still only interim some four years after BCRA was passed is further proof that the provision is too onerous.

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