WASHINGTON — San Joaquin Valley congressional candidates Mike Berryhill and Jeff Denham are loaning their campaigns hundreds of thousands of dollars, the kind of investment that comes with no guarantee of long-term profit.
Short term, Berryhill and Denham both pumped up their crucial first quarter fundraising totals with their loans. Berryhill, running in the 18th Congressional District, reported loaning his campaign $225,000 since January. Denham, running in the 19th Congressional District, loaned his own campaign $150,000.
The tactically timed loans do more than fund campaign operations. They also demonstrate commitment, and can deter criticisms about the strength of their candidacy.
"If the numbers are really lopsided in favor of one candidate, that can signal a runaway election," University of California at Merced political scientist Nathan Monroe noted.
Previous Valley candidates have likewise loaned their campaigns money, sometimes with marked success. Democratic Reps. Jim Costa of Fresno and Dennis Cardoza of Merced, for instance, both loaned their initial House campaigns money. Both won, and both eventually paid themselves back — Costa even paid himself interest.
Republican businesswoman Carly Fiorina jumpstarted her Senate campaign last year with a $2.5 million loan. So far, that's helped keep her campaign bankroll fatter than those of her GOP competitors, Tom Campbell and Chuck Devore.
But campaign loans can also be a risky investment, particularly if other fundraising falters.
Berryhill is now challenging Cardoza in the district that sweeps through San Joaquin, Stanislaus and Merced counties, as well as a sliver of Fresno County. Last year, Berryhill reported loaning his campaign $115,000, some of which he has since repaid.
Tellingly, his latest $225,000 loan came on March 30, just prior to the end of the first quarter reporting period. This is a time when candidates often do whatever they can to produce more impressive looking numbers. The due date listed for this loan was April 1.
All of Berryhill's other contributions since January totaled only $21,391, newly filed records show.
Cardoza reported raising $151,342 since January and has $525,128 in available cash. Berryhill reported having $244,253 in available cash, nearly all of this a result of his last-minute campaign loan.
Financially speaking, the Republican primary in the 19th Congressional District appears to be much more competitive. The campaign consultants for candidates seeking to represent the district that stretches from Modesto to Fresno are acutely aware of the attention paid to fundraising prowess.
In the days leading up to the Thursday reporting deadline, consultants for several campaigns said that for tactical reasons they did not want to release their fundraising numbers before their competitors did.
On Thursday afternoon, before Denham's campaign report was formally filed, campaign consultant Dave Gilliard said Denham had raised about $493,000. The subsequently filed Federal Election Commission report provided the details: Denham had raised $341,840 and loaned his campaign $150,000.
The loaned money came on March 30 and March 31, immediately preceding the end of the fundraising period. Supporters of former Rep. Richard Pombo of Tracy, one of Denham's primary opponents, said Gilliard's initial characterization of the money raised was misleading because it overstated public support.
"The fact that (Denham) is a successful businessman and able to donate to his own campaign is something we are proud of," Gilliard retorted, adding that "it all spends the same."