Gil Cisneros, a Democratic candidate running in Orange County who won $266 million from the lottery in 2010, was issuing urgent pleas for donations from supporters late last week before cutting himself a check for $200,000.
Cisneros, a former Navy veteran and Frito-Lay manager, is running against GOP small business owner Young Kim in an extremely tight race to replace Rep. Ed Royce (R., Calif.). Before last week, he had loaned his campaign $8.8 million and collected $1.9 million in contributions.
On Wednesday the Cisneros campaign asked supporters for an "urgent donation" and suggested that his campaign would make "catastrophic" "cutbacks" if it didn't receive enough donations by the end of that day.
"We wanted to make sure you got this note from Gil last night," the campaign said in its email to supporters. "He's being blunt as can be here, and we agree with him. The idea of having to make any cutbacks at this point could be catastrophic in a race this close. We're doing everything we can to get there, but we need your support ahead of tonight's deadline."
"Can you rush an urgent donation [sic] of today?" the campaign added in note signed "Team Cisneros HQ."
The missive followed an email that said it was from Cisneros directly. "I'm reaching out with a favor to ask—can you send a quick $10 donation to the campaign?"
"When I first decided to run in California's 39th Congressional District, I committed to rejecting all corporate PAC money," the email said. "That is a commitment I continue to stand by—in contrast with my opponent, who represents more of the failed status quo in Washington."
"It also means that grassroots support is vital to my campaign," he wrote. "But with one week to go, it looks like some of our fundraising numbers are starting to drop off. We're falling short of our target and we're concerned about possible cutbacks.
On Thursday, Cisneros gave his campaign another $200,000, bringing his self-funding total to an even $9 million, federal election commission records show.
With just three days left before voters head to the polls, the contest is too close to call. The most recent poll, a New York Times/Siena poll conducted from Oct. 18 to Oct. 23, has Cisneros up by 1 percentage point. A Monmouth poll released a month earlier had Young up by 10 points.
Cisneros, a former Navy veteran and Frito-Lay manager, is running against GOP small business owner Young Kim in an extremely tight race to replace Rep. Ed Royce (R., Calif.). The most recent poll, a New York Times/Siena poll conducted from Oct. 18 to Oct. 23, has Cisneros up by 1 percentage point. A Monmouth poll released a month earlier had Young up by 10 points.
Republicans privately questioned the last-minute pleas for cash, considering that his personal wealth and his ability to draw on it for his campaign was one of the reasons many national Democrats backed him in a tight primary race against rival Democrat Andy Thorburn.
The Cisneros campaign did not respond to a request for comment on the late requests for donations and the subsequent $200,000 donation from his own funds.
Cisneros in 2010 won $266 million from the MEGA Million California lottery, a record-breaking jackpot at the time.
Since that time, Cisneros and his wife have set up a philanthropic foundation that has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to various charities across the country. In 2016 alone, the foundations doled out, among many other donations, $100,000 to the University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication; $100,000 to the Congressional Hispanic Fund; and $50,000 to the George Washington University to pay for a "Cisneros Institute Senior Fellow Fund."
Federal Election Commission records show that Cisneros has loaned his campaign for Congress $8.8 million and contributed $52,000 to it while collecting another $1.9 million in contributions from supporters.
Cisneros's frustration over being repeatedly asked for donations from other Democratic candidates and causes was a factor in a #MeToo scandal that plagued his campaign for months. Melissa Fazli, a Democrat running for the California state Assembly, said he expressed frustration about her request for a political donation to her campaign back in February and then made inappropriate remarks.
She went public with her complaints about Cisneros in May, accusing him of asking her in response to her request for a donation, "Well, what are you going to do for me?" in a suggestive manner that made her believe he was requesting that she have sex with him in exchange for $4,400 political donation. During a previous encounter at state Democratic convention in February, Fazli said Cisneros asked if he could go back to her hotel room while they chatted outside a hotel elevator late in the evening.
In early October Fazli withdrew her complaint about Cisneros after what she described as months of pressure from other members of the Democratic Party to do so. Fazli said she and Cisneros sat down together to discuss the issue and he apologized to her and both agreed to a ceasefire on the issue and that she would withdraw her sexual harassment complaint.