Self-Funded Candidates Make Waves in Senate Races

Linda McMahon and Carly Fiorina have spent millions on their campaigns.

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Hillary Clinton loaned herself about $13 million during her presidential bid in 2008. Mitt Romney spent at least $35 million of his own money on his bid. Michael Bloomberg, the mayor of New York City, a notorious self-financer, spent more than $85 million out of his own pocket on his successful run for a third term.

Self-spending has become a big part of recent campaigns, and this year's congressional midterms will continue the trend, according to recent campaign filings with the Federal Elections Commission.

It's highly unlikely that anyone will come close to challenging Bloomberg's record for personal campaign spending. But like Bloomberg, some of the candidates vying for office in this cycle made big fortunes in business, and they're already showing that they're not afraid to drop money early.

Leading the pack is Linda McMahon, the former CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment, purveyor of such shows as WWE Smackdown and WrestleMania, who is running as a Republican for the seat being vacated by Democrat Sen. Chris Dodd. According to the most recent filings with the FEC, McMahon had loaned her campaign $14 million as of March 31. Her net worth is estimated to be at least $500 million. (McMahon, in fact, is being challenged on the Republican side by Peter Schiff, a Connecticut businessman and brokerage firm owner, who, according to FEC filings, has loaned himself $550,000 -- a small amount compared to McMahon, but significant nonetheless.) [See Dodd's fundraising history.]

Another big spender is Carly Fiorina, the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard. Fiorina is running as a Republican in California against Democratic incumbent Sen. Barbara Boxer. Through March, Fiorina had loaned herself $2.5 million. [See which industries are donating to Boxer's campaign.]

Many of these figures are expected to grow in the next few months as the campaigning intensifies. Last year, McMahon told the press that she'd be willing to spend upward of $30 million to win the Connecticut seat. According to reports, she's built a formidable ground campaign and has been buying up TV ads across the state.

Fiorina, on the other hand, may be trying to limit her personal investment to the loan she's already made. In a press conference last year, she told reporters that she didn't "have millions of dollars to loan to the campaign." She clearly found $2.5 million. But unlike McMahon, she's been actively fundraising. According to FEC reports, Fiorina raised $1.7 million in the first quarter of the year, bringing her net fundraising total to $5.3 million (including the loan).

The extra money allows candidates to buy more ads and raise their profiles. But history shows that self-financed campaigns have a mixed record, especially when challengers are against deep-pocketed incumbents. In 2006, businessman Ned Lamont defeated then Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman in the Democratic primary but ultimately lost to him in the general election, after Lieberman switched parties and ran as an independent. Lamont is estimated to have spent more than $12 million of his own money on the race. [See how much Lieberman has raised this cycle.]

And, of course, neither Clinton nor Romney won their party's nomination.

Boxer, preparing for her fight with Fiorina, raised $2.4 million in the first quarter and now has $8.4 million in the bank, according to the FEC and campaign reports. That means Fiorina may find herself reaching into her personal bank account as November approaches if her fundraising can't keep up.

As for McMahon, the latest Quinnipiac poll, from March, shows her surging over her Republican challengers after being down by at least 10 points just a few months ago. Money surely played a big role in the move. But when matched against Richard Blumenthal, the state's popular Democratic attorney general, in the general election, she still loses by more than 30 points. Money, it seems, may only take her so far.

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