Capitol Alert

California political losers have hard time paying debts

Sandra Fluke, a candidate for state Senate, stands in her campaign office in Los Angeles in July 2014. Fluke lost the race and her campaign reported more than $140,000 in outstanding debt at the end of 2014.
Sandra Fluke, a candidate for state Senate, stands in her campaign office in Los Angeles in July 2014. Fluke lost the race and her campaign reported more than $140,000 in outstanding debt at the end of 2014. AP

Today’s story in The Bee about lawmakers’ campaign debt showed that it can take months or even years to pay off personal loans and unpaid bills. And that’s for candidates who won. For losing candidates, the task becomes much harder, experts say.

“It’s undeniable that it’s a lot easier to raise money if you win than if lose,” former Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento, said. Unsuccessful legislative candidates reported almost half a million dollars in debt at the end of 2014, records show.

Democrat Sandra Fluke lost her bid for a Los Angeles-area state Senate seat in November and her campaign reported more than $140,000 in outstanding debt Dec. 31. That included $100,000 in personal loans and more than $46,000 in credit-card bills, her reports show. Fluke declined to comment.

Diamond Bar Republican Phillip Chen, who finished third in an Assembly primary last June, reported $138,000 in debt, including a $100,000 personal loan. On his campaign campaign website, Chen thanked supporters: “Your sacrifices will not be forgotten and I am forever indebted to you.”

Campaign debt sometimes generates bad publicity. Last winter, newspaper articles highlighted $490,000 in campaign debt still owed by 2010 Senate candidate Carly Fiorina, a possible 2016 presidential candidate. Fiorina quickly paid off the expenses.

Campaign debt, though, rarely translates into anything approaching the alleged criminal behavior of former state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco. According to federal prosecutors, a $70,000 debt left from over from Yee’s unsuccessful 2011 campaign for San Francisco mayor allegedly drove him to accept bribes in return for official favors and arrange overseas weapons deals.

“We're 32 out now. $32,000 out ... from paying off the debt,” Yee allegedly told an undercover agent, according to last year’s federal indictment.

For campaign companies, meanwhile, unpaid bills goes with the territory of working in politics. Matt Rexroad, a longtime Republican political consultant, said he has been stiffed by clients and “had to learn some lessons the hard way.”

“Everyone tries to get paid up front,” he said.

Call Jim Miller, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 326-5521. Follow him on Twitter @jimmiller2.

Related stories from Sacramento Bee

  Comments