Races Leave Members Broke

New Reports Detail Extent of Leftover Campaign Debts

Posted December 5, 2008 at 6:18pm

At least a dozen politically vulnerable House Members and Members-elect are beginning the 2010 election cycle carrying far more debt than cash on hand, according to new campaign finance reports released late last week.

Several other vulnerable Members, while debt-free, have drawn their cash reserves down to almost zero after bruising campaigns. All will try to ramp up their fundraising at a time when the economy is sagging and political donors, after the most expensive election in history, may be fatigued and reluctant to give.

The latest reports submitted to the Federal Election Commission cover the period from Oct. 16 to Nov. 24.

The biggest shortfall by far belongs to Rep.-elect Alan Grayson (D-Fla.), who reported a debt of more than $2.6 million as of Nov. 24. Grayson’s cash on hand was listed at negative $24,000.

But Grayson’s finances may not be quite as dire as they appear. He is a wealthy lawyer, and his $2.6 million in debt includes $2.3 million that he owes himself. Still, the man who ousted Rep. Ric Keller (R) is likely to face a tough challenge in a politically and demographically volatile central Florida district in 2010.

Next in the debt count is Rep.-elect Harry Teague (D-N.M.), a wealthy oil man who owes himself more than $1.7 million and had $120,000 in the bank on Nov. 24. He won a conservative open seat and is almost certain to be a top Republican target. Outgoing Rep. Steve Pearce (R), who gave up the seat to run unsuccessfully for Senate this year, may run.

Several other Members-elect carried significant debt: Walt Minnick (D-Idaho) had debts of $395,000 (including $300,000 owed to himself) and $16,000 in the bank; Parker Griffith (D-Ala.) had $390,000 in debt (including $250,000 owed to himself) and $12,000 on hand; Kathy Dahlkemper (D-Pa.) had $109,000 in debt (this does not include the $176,000 owed to herself) and $43,000 on hand; Bobby Bright (D-Ala.) had $102,000 in debt and $28,000 in the bank; Larry Kissell (D-N.C.), a relatively weak fundraiser whose campaign was largely bankrolled by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, had $93,000 in debt and $24,000 on hand; Frank Kratovil (D-Md.) had $82,000 in debt and $52,000 in the bank; and Leonard Lance (R-N.J.) reported debts of $79,000 (not including $100,000 owed to himself) and $26,000 in the bank.

Minnick, Griffith, Bright and Kratovil, who represent Republican-leaning districts, are almost certain to face tough challenges in 2010, and the others could as well.

But it isn’t just newcomers who are facing significant debts. Rep. Dave Reichert (R-Wash.), one of a handful of GOP Members representing districts that Democrats regularly win in presidential elections, had $176,000 in debt, most of it owed to vendors, and just $40,000 in cash on hand.

Some potentially vulnerable incumbents are in considerably better shape financially.

Rep. Paul Kanjorski (D-Pa.), who won his 13th term on Election Day with his lowest winning percentage ever and could be targeted again by Republicans, had $313,000 in his campaign account on Nov. 24 and was debt-free. Rep. Chet Edwards (D-Texas), a frequent GOP target in his very conservative district, had $281,000 in cash on hand.

Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (R-Mich.), who took just 51 percent of the vote against a no-name Democratic challenger this year and could be a major Democratic target this cycle, finished the period with $190,000 in his campaign account.

Two Pennsylvania Republicans who sit in Democratic-leaning districts but ran against weak challengers in 2008 also had decent-sized bank accounts. Rep. Charlie Dent had $215,000 on hand, and Rep. Jim Gerlach, who has never won more than 52 percent of the vote, had $145,000 in the bank.