After losing her primary in May, Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-NC) now officially identifies herself as an independent investor. But if his political investments are any measure, he might consider a new line of work – he’s now lost more than half a million dollars.
A pair of unusual campaign finance reports this week reveal that since 2019, Cawthorn has personally invested a total of $817,000 in his campaign, while only recouping $261,000 of that amount.
That leaves him personally in the $556,000 hole, more than three times Congress’ annual salary of $174,000.
The new campaign reports also punctuate a remarkable financial meltdown that unfolded alongside Cawthorn’s not-so-slow political implosion in the first half of the year.
In total, the Cawthorn campaign raised nearly $4.5 million for his failed 2022 re-election bid. He spent more than $4.9 million along the way. The grand totals for 2020 and 2022 combined: $9.2 million in, $9.55 million out.
As of June 30, the campaign had $1,504 in the bank.
The spending spree caught up with the campaign at the worst possible time: just as the primary election hit. Campaign finance law experts told The Daily Beast that the Cawthorn operation appears to have uncovered more than $200,000 in the weeks following the primary, which Cawthorn filled in late June with a single personal contribution.
As the campaign struggled to meet its primary election obligations, it had also dipped into general election donor money, which it was not legally allowed to touch, as The Daily Beast previously reported. .
Saurav Ghosh, director of federal reform at the watchdog group Campaign Legal Center, said the situation “could be accurately described as a ‘dumpster fire’.”
“Madison Cawthorn got into campaign finance hot water when he dipped into general election funds, and it looks like what he did at the end of the reporting period is to use his own funds to bail out his campaign,” Ghosh told The Daily Beast. .
Jordan Libowitz, director of communications for government watchdog Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, shared the analysis, saying Cawthorn was in “uncharted territory.”
“I can’t think of anyone else who illegally spent campaign funds and then paid out of pocket to cover it up,” Libowitz said.
“You will sometimes see wealthy candidates spending a ton of their own money trying to buy a seat, and it fails,” he said. “What you don’t often see is an incumbent congressman spending hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars and doing it at the end of a losing campaign to pay off his debts.”
In this case, Libowitz pointed out, it’s not just about paying off debts.
“It appears that Madison was covering expenses from donor funds earmarked for the general election, which he was not authorized to spend and was forced to repay. He is in uncharted territory on that one,” said Libowitz.
The revelations came in two reports – the original, then one with corrections.
The original report showed Cawthorn paid about $208,000 in a lump sum contribution on June 30, replenishing overdraft payments — and associated fees — and bringing the available cash into the positive range.
But he still carried more than $300,000 in campaign debt to two companies. The bulk – $184,000 – was owed to EMP Strategies, owned by Cawthorn chief of staff Blake Harp. This financial arrangement has raised ethical questions, Pay Dirt previously reported.
But when Cawthorn filed his amended report, the debt disappeared. Instead of showing a single donation of $208,000 on June 30, that report said Cawthorn actually gave his campaign about $443,000 that day, which was used to pay the companies.
The edited version also shows that Cawthorn repaid himself $10,000 for previous campaign loans. However, he still owes $69,000 – a good chunk of the debt – but he can forgive that at will.
Additionally, the quarterly report was filed 30 days late – the deadline by which it would be accepted – and will likely result in an automatic administrative fine. In Cawthorn’s case, that could be around $18,000, according to FEC guidelines.
But if the campaign is penalized, it only brings about $1,504 in cash to the bank, meaning Cawthorn may again have to dip into its own pockets. And as his campaign treasurer, Cawthorn himself could also be accused of reporting violations.
Cawthorn was not always the treasurer, only taking over in July after the departure of its contract treasurer, Tom Datwyler. But Cawthorn forgot to remove Datwyler’s signature on the first filing this week, which he later corrected.
The report was also full of curiosities common to Cawthorn’s spending, including several hundred dollars at Chick-Fil-A and a place called Papas & Beer, $320 at Hendersonville Portable Toilets a week after the primary, and nearly $2,000 at a Cawthorn cigar store favors, called Casablanca Tobacconist – $584.68 the night he lost.
“Looking briefly at his personal financial information, it looks like he has some money,” Ghosh noted. “But it’s a bit of a problem that it’s all so opaque – when someone like me who knows campaign finance law is always left with a big question about where that money is coming from and how this campaign has used their money. There’s a transparency issue here when a campaign does something like this and gets exposed. It’s not an ideal situation and needs to be addressed more openly.
Cawthorn seems to have easy access to money. He won a $3 million insurance settlement for damages he suffered in the 2014 car crash that left his legs paralyzed, and also won additional payouts for the accident. But his financial disclosures have also raised legal questions of their own, including about possible insider trading linked to an alleged “pump and dump” cryptocurrency scheme this winter.
On May 18, the day after his primary defeat, Cawthorn transferred between $100,000 and $250,000 of his personal fortune to an S&P fund, a safe and prudent investment. His campaign tally would bottom out soon after.