From One Long Shot to Another

Posted May 6, 2008 at 6:46pm

Some candidates like direct mail. Others prefer the phones. But GOP Senate hopeful Murray Sabrin reckoned the quickest way to raise cash ahead of New Jersey’s June 3 primary was by letting it ride.

[IMGCAP(1)]Sabrin wagered $1,050 in campaign cash on Cowboy Cal, a 39-to-1 horse running in Saturday’s Kentucky Derby. Sabrin’s campaign raised the money online specifically for the bet Friday, the day before the 134th Run for the Roses. Cal lost his Derby bid, finishing the race near the middle of the pack, well behind the race winner, Big Brown.

“Unfortunately the wager did not result in a windfall,” campaign spokesman George Ajjan said. “[Cowboy Cal] was running with the leaders at the beginning of the race, and he ended up finishing ninth.”

But the wager was not entirely for naught, Ajjan said. While perhaps many thousands of dollars less than the take would’ve been if Sabrin’s pick had won, the spokesman said the campaign did end up netting $20,000 in Internet contributions Friday.

Not a bad take for a campaign with only $66,000 in the bank.

Betting the Farm. Oregon Speaker Jeff Merkley (D) recently put up a piece of property he owns to keep his campaign’s lights on ahead of the May 20 Senate primary campaign against attorney Steve Novick.

Merkley told his campaign’s supporters in an e-mail that he was mortgaging a home he owns in Washington, D.C., so he could cut his campaign a hefty six- figure check. As of April 1, Merkley had $473,000 in cash, compared with Novick’s $197,000.

“For Mary and me there is no cause more important than changing the direction of our country,” Merkley wrote in an April 23 fundraising e-mail. “That’s why today we are taking a $250,000 loan against a house I purchased more than 20 years ago and lending the funds to the campaign to help me communicate my vision for changing this country.”

Merkley continued in the e-mail that the house, which was once a homeless shelter, is now the national headquarters of the Lutheran Volunteer Corps.

The winner of the Novick-Merkley race will face Sen. Gordon Smith (R) in November.

Cash is King. For Rep. Bill Sali’s (R-Idaho) political consultant, it’s cash on the barrel until the lawmaker retires more than $75,000 in unpaid invoices still outstanding from the previous cycle.

“People end up with campaign debt. It’s not unusual” said Lou Esposito, Sali’s

consultant. “[But] in order that things don’t seem improper, we went to a cash basis.”

According to his April 1 Federal Election Commission filings, Sali had nearly $145,000 outstanding to creditors, including two family members. He also owed Arizona-based Bluepoint Consulting about $30,000, and fundraiser Hammond and Associates $16,000.

Sali’s office said there “is nothing unusual” with the Esposito arrangement and denied that other vendors are demanding advance cash payments from the Member’s re-election committee.

“The campaign has made arrangements with various creditors, and they are satisfied with the arrangements we’ve made. … I think you guys are blowing this way, way, way out of proportion,” Sali spokesman Wayne Hoffman said. “The simple fact is Rep. Sali’s campaign fundraising is right on track with other Members of Congress, other Members from Idaho.”

Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), the state’s other House Member, had no campaign debt as of April 1. Idaho Sens. Larry Craig (R) and Mike Crapo (R) also had no bills outstanding after the first quarter, according to the FEC.

Esposito agreed the lawmaker’s fundraising has perked up recently and attributed the debt to budget overruns from the previous cycle and a rough fundraising patch that Sali and other GOPers ran into during and after Democrats began surging in 2006.

“We were raising money right on schedule, and unfortunately, when people saw that Democrats were going to sweep, all of the sudden our fundraising was drying up,” he said. “For Republicans to initially to raise money after 2006 was difficult.”

Esposito also said that his client’s “fundraising is picking up and things are coming together” and that “all of us who are owed money are happy.”

Sali, who has about $124,000 in the bank, is expected to go up against 1996 Senate nominee Walt Minnick (D) in the fall. Minnick had $328,000 in the bank on April 1.

Simpson had $114,000 in cash on hand after the first quarter.

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