Some House Frosh Carry Big Debts

Posted April 26, 2005 at 6:28pm

There are as many freshman House Members carrying $100,000 or more in debt as there are freshman who managed to get elected to Congress without owing a cent.

A survey of recently released Federal Election Commission reports shows that a dozen House Members owe more than $100,000 while a dozen are in the black.

It also reveals that Texans are disproportionately represented on the biggest debtors list, probably thanks to the controversial mid-decade redistricting spearheaded by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) that added four Republicans to the delegation.

Several freshmen from the Lone Star State waged tough races last year to win their seats — many of them targeting incumbents who were endangered by the new district lines.

The reports cover the first quarter of this year and can be viewed as an indication of who needs to kick start fundraising efforts and who can probably cruise to re-election.

Of the freshman carrying significant debt, many owe the money to themselves and can opt not to pay it back.

Rep. Mike McCaul (R-Texas) has the distinction of owing the most. He was $565,970 in debt and had $28,992 cash on hand as of March 31.

He was followed by Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), who was about $500,000 in the red with almost as much in the bank; Rep. Mike Sodrel (R-Ind.), who carried $318,000 of debt and had more in the bank, $333,000; Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), $247,000 owed, $107,000 cash on hand; Rep. Al Green (D-Texas), $239,000 in debt, $79,500 in the bank; Rep. Dan Boren (D-Okla.), $222,000 of debt, $20,500 in the bank; Rep. Geoff Davis (R-Ky.), $214,000 of debt, $284,000 in the bank; Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), $202,000 in the red, $137,500 cash on hand; Rep. Randy Kuhl (R-N.Y.), $153,000 in debt, $73,000 in the bank; Rep. Russ Carnahan (D-Mo.), $136,000 of obligations and $139,000 in the bank; Rep. Kenny Marchant (R-Texas), $125,000 of debt, almost $95,000 cash on hand; and Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.), $103,000 owed and almost $339,000 in the bank.

McCaul, a wealthy Austin attorney, contributed roughly $1.5 million of his own money to the campaign and then loaned himself another $587,000 — $435,000 of which he still needs to pay back. He had $131,603 in outstanding debt including the $104,000 he owes Delisi Communications of Austin for media consulting.

McCaul needed the money to make it through the 2004 GOP primary and runoff, which assured him the seat as no Democrat even competed for it.

Price owes all of the $499,000 in debt he has to himself. The Roswell, Ga., surgeon faced no general election opposition last year but did have to win a Republican runoff to win his suburban Atlanta seat.

Sodrel loaned himself $250,000 in his second attempt to unseat then-Rep. Baron Hill (D-Ind.). That is less than the trucking company owner put into his 2002 effort but he yielded better results last year when he knocked Hill off after a protracted race.

Sodrel still owes himself the full amount plus $68,386 to vendors, the bulk of which is owed to Bopp Coleson and Bostrom of Terre Haute, Ind., for legal fees associated with the recount. He also owes Dawson McCarthy Nelson Media of Washington, D.C., a $15,000 bonus for helping him win.

Sodrel can count on even more help from fellow Republicans next year as he tries to hold his swing district. He has been designated as one of the most vulnerable Republicans, so House GOP leaders will raise money to bolster his account through the Retain Our Majority Program. Hill is contemplating a rematch.

Cuellar initially loaned himself or secured personal loans worth $300,000 in his successful effort to knock off then-Rep. Ciro Rodriguez in the Democratic primary last year.

Cuellar has paid $66,000 of the $200,000 he borrowed from International Bank of Commerce in Laredo, Texas. But he still owes himself all but $4,500 of his $100,000 personal loan. The bulk of his remaining $14,368 of debt is either interest he owes himself or the bank or unpaid bills from American GOTV Enterprises of Flat Rock, N.C.

Rodriguez and state Rep. Richard Raymond plan to challenge Cuellar in next year’s Democratic primary. No matter who wins, the seat is safe for the Democrats, so the national party is not going to rush to Cuellar’s aid.

Green, who easily defeated freshman Rep. Chris Bell in the Democratic primary in the redrawn Houston-area 9th district last year, still owes $239,000 of the $314,000 he loaned himself.

The only debt the former Justice of the Peace incurred was personal.

Boren, the son of former Sen. David Boren (D-Okla.), owes mainly himself. He initially loaned himself $266,533 and still owes $185,000. He owes $37,000 to Michael Carrier Enterprises of Oklahoma City for consulting, mail and television advertisements.

Davis borrowed $150,827 from Heritage Bank in Burlington, Ky., to win the seat vacated by former Rep. Ken Lucas (D-Ky.).

He owes another $63,239 primarily for campaign, media and fundraising consulting services.

McHenry also primarily owes himself — $165,500 of the initial $196,500 he borrowed. He also owes the Stewart Group of Raleigh, N.C., $36,603 for auto calls and direct mail.

Kuhl is an exception on the list. The bulk of his debt, $145,000, is owed to a few vendors for a range of campaign services. He only loaned himself $8,000 and still owes it.

Carnahan owes himself all but $3,000 of a $113,000 personal loan. His remaining debt of $25,374 is mainly for win bonuses to campaign aides and consultants.

After repaying $75,000, Marchant owes himself $125,000.

Westmoreland loaned himself $230,000 to get through a bitter Republican runoff to succeed retiring Rep. Mac Collins (R-Ga.). All of his $103,000 debt is to himself.

Some of these freshmen will have to eat their debt as the new campaign finance laws only allow candidates to raise $250,000 after an election to help erase personal debt.

They could have paid themselves back in full using money raised before or on the election date. They also had 20 days after the election to use any cash on hand left to settle the debts.

The dozen freshman who owe nothing are Reps. Connie Mack IV (R-Fla.), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.), Bobby Jindal (R-La.), Charles Boustany (R-La.), Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), Brian Higgins (D-N.Y.), Michael Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), Allyson Schwartz (D-Pa.), Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), Bob Inglis (R-S.C.) and Gwen Moore (D-Wis.).

Coincidentally or not, most are favored for re-election next year.

Megan King contributed to this report. CORRECTION:

The April 27 article “Some House Frosh Carry Big Debts,” incorrectly reported the amount of debt being carried in the campaign account of Rep. Mike Sodrel (R-Ind.). Because Sodrel is carrying debt in two separate campaign committees, he actually owes $1.3 million, mainly to himself, making him the biggest debtor of the freshman class.