WASHINGTON — Former Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado looks like he is playing yo-yo with his own money while he pumps up a campaign war chest intended for a high-profile House race on the California coast.
One of several Republicans hoping to challenge incumbent Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, Maldonado has dropped big money into his campaign, retrieved it quickly and then dropped it back in again.
The rapid cycling of money, timed to fundraising deadlines, could appear like a way to inflate campaign reports and demonstrate political viability. Or, as Maldonado's campaign consultants say, it could be simple prudence.
"That money is part of our budget," Brandon Gesicki, a spokesman for Maldonado's campaign, said Tuesday, "and that is a wise thing to do with our resources."
Seemingly mirroring campaign moves seen last year in a Northern San Joaquin Valley congressional race, Maldonado loaned his House campaign $250,000 on June 30. Coming on the last day of the fundraising period, the loan, combined with contributions, enabled Maldonado to show a respectable $531,401 on hand.
One day later, newly filed records show, Maldonado's campaign repaid the loan. Because the repayment came after the second-quarter filing period ended, it didn't have to be reported until mid-October.
Maldonado reprised at least the first part of the maneuver Sept. 30, the last day of the third-quarter fundraising period. Again, he loaned his campaign $250,000. With the loan's help, he showed having $603,768 on hand.
Gesicki said the second $250,000 loan will again be repaid soon. He said the short-term loans amount to a public commitment by Maldonado to spend his own money on the campaign. Once the loan is public, Gesicki indicated, the money is withdrawn into an interest-bearing certificate of deposit account until it's needed for campaign purposes.
"I think it's the smart thing to do," Gesicki said.
Capps reported having $859,630 available in her campaign treasury. Her campaign consultants question the Maldonado campaign's explanations for the serial short-term loans.
"It's strange, and it doesn't make any sense," Capps' campaign spokesman Jeff Millman said Tuesday.
The campaign fundraising amounts to the preliminary rounds of what could be one of the country's most closely watched House races. The newly redrawn 24th congressional district, spanning San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties with a sliver of Ventura County, has Democrats claiming a thin 39-to-35 percent voter registration edge over Republicans.
The district currently represented by Capps, by contrast, has Democrats crushing Republicans with a voter registration advantage of 45 percent to 27 percent.
Goleta businessman Tom Watson, another potential contender, reported having $9,808 on hand. Republican Chris Mitchum, who debated Watson at a Santa Barbara Tea Party event last week, reported having $1,400 available.
Political professionals watch these campaign reports closely, as raising money and having a lot of it on hand can make a candidate seem viable. Stronger candidates, in turn, usually get more money.
Last year, Republican congressional candidate Mike Berryhill in Stanislaus County demonstrated his own aggressive approach toward cycling campaign funds.
Berryhill, challenging incumbent Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced, loaned his campaign $225,000 at the end of one fundraising period. He paid it back five days later. At the end of the next reporting period, Berryhill again loaned his campaign $225,000. Two days later, it was paid back.
Berryhill continued loaning his campaign money, and paying some of it back; but, in time, the repayments stopped. His campaign still owes him $171,000, newly filed statements show.
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