Personal wealth and a willingness to use it don’t guarantee victory for a political candidate. But it helps stay in the game, as the results of Washington’s primary election Tuesday made clear.
Several candidates who tapped their own bank accounts advanced to the Nov. 6 general election.
Most of the money raised by congressional candidates Bill Driscoll and Suzan DelBene and state auditor candidate Troy Kelley came out of the their own pockets. In political parlance, they’re known as“self-funders.”
The money gave them a presence on television that rivals from their own parties lacked. Voters were bombarded with images of supporters repeating DelBene’s name, of Kelley alongside retiring Auditor Brian Sonntag, and of Driscoll wearing a Marine Corps uniform.
Driscoll’s campaign estimates the net worth of the Tacoma Weyerhaeuser descendant and his wife, Lisa Hoffman, at $55 million. Driscoll put up $520,000 of his own money to try to win the U.S. House seat that Rep. Norm Dicks is giving up.
While not ruling it out, the campaign said Driscoll doesn’t expect to ante up more than what he’s already loaned and contributed. The money was enough to boost his fundraising to roughly the level of his Democratic opponent, state Sen. Derek Kilmer of Gig Harbor.
“Now that Bill’s campaign is a hotly contested race that will attract national attention ... more personal money will not be required,” predicted Driscoll’s campaign consultant, Alex Hays.
Driscoll, an executive with a real-estate investment firm, is vying for the 6th District seat representing much of Tacoma and the Olympic and Kitsap peninsulas. Kilmer dominated in the primary with 53 percent, while Driscoll split Republican votes with four other candidates and received 18 percent.
Candidates who have made it through the primary now could have access to more money from political parties and others who may not have picked a side before.
“Usually you see much more of that sort of individual personal money being spent in primaries,” said Matt Barreto, an associate professor of political science at the University of Washington. “We would expect them to be getting much more money from individuals and different groups during the general.”
Another congressional candidate who has kicked in some of his own money, Democrat Denny Heck of Olympia, also said through a campaign spokesman that he doesn’t expect to give more.
Heck, an early investor in RealNetworks, is worth at least $4 million and perhaps as much as $9 million, according to financial disclosures that require candidates to give only broad ranges of their assets.
Heck loaned his campaign $100,000 this year on top of $250,000 in loans for his previous congressional campaign that are still due to be paid back. It’s a fraction of the $1.38 million he raised through June.
He now faces Republican Dick Muri, a Pierce County councilman from Steilacoom, for the new 10th District seat that includes much of Thurston County and suburban Pierce County. In a field of six candidates, Heck received 40 percent of the vote to Muri’s 28 percent.
DelBene, a former Microsoft executive from Medina, dwarfed this year’s other candidates in personal contributions with $2.3 million. The Seattle Times estimated her net worth at $53 million based on an average of the ranges provided in financial disclosures.
She faces Republican John Koster for the open seat in the district stretching from Seattle’s eastern suburbs to the Canadian border. In a field of seven primary candidates, she had 23 percent of the vote compared to Koster’s 45 percent as of Friday.
Kelley, a former executive with First American Title Insurance Co. who went on to found his own document-recording company, kicked in $240,000 of his own money in his run for state auditor. Financial disclosures at the state level don’t provide as clear a picture of state candidates’ finances as those for federal candidates, and Kelley declined to reveal his net worth.
Kelley, a state representative from Tacoma, emerged from the primary field of four candidates with 23 percent of the votes counted as of Friday. He will advance to the general election along with Republican consultant James Watkins of Redmond, who received 46 percent as the sole Republican in the race.
Self-funding candidates have a mixed record nationally. Political experience can trump money, Barreto said, as it did when Jerry Brown defeated Meg Whitman for California governor in 2010.
He said wealthy candidates often have better luck their second time around after some campaign seasoning – which may bode well for DelBene, who lost to Rep. Dave Reichert in 2010.
At least one self-funder, 27th Legislative District state Senate candidate Jack Connelly, didn’t have much to show for his money after the primary. Connelly, a Tacoma Democrat and trial attorney, has plowed $421,000 of his own money into his campaign so far — more than the total fundraising of any other legislative candidate.
He received 41 percent of the vote to 59 percent for Rep. Jeannie Darneille, his sole primary opponent. Darneille is another Democrat who has received help from a slew of political committees and other contributors rather than spending her own income.
A Connelly-Darneille rematch is pending in the general election.