Before taking office, incoming lawmakers already seek to dissolve their debt.
US Senator-elect Republican Ron Johnson, who unseated Democrat Russ Feingold, is holding a “Debt Retirement Lunch” on Thursday in Washington, with donations ranging from $500 to $5,000 dollars.
Mike McCabe of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign doesn’t like that idea, saying many voters have the understanding that a candidate self-financing his campaign is running free of special interest influence. “Voters have a right to know who is really paying for your campaign before the votes are cast, not afterward.”
Johnson, an Oshkosh businessman, spent almost $9 million of his own money.
McCabe says despite running against the so-called Washington insiders, the newly-elected lawmakers go to D.C. with their hand out.
However, UW Political Science Professor Charles Franklin says it’s not unusual for members of congress to hold fundraisers to help retire their debts. So far after the November election, “there have been several dozen of these fundraisers in Washington of freshman coming in with substantial debt that they are trying to pay off.”
McCabe and Franklin both cite the example of longtime Senator Herb Kohl, who used his own personal fortune with a campaign slogan, “Nobody’s Senator But Yours.” And that works for him, says Franklin, but many candidates from both political parties at all levels of politics self-finance in hopes of later getting reimbursed.
“If you’ll remember during the presidential campaign Hillary Clinton loaned several million dollars to her own campaign when it was short of money, and then at the end of the campaign one of the issues was how to retire that debt.”
Franklin says it’s just par for the course — donors are giving money to candidates all the time, either for running a campaign or retiring the debt. It’s easier, though, he adds, for a winner to get financially reimbursed than for the losing candidate to do so.