One campaign, $68 million and counting

SUNNYVALE, CA - APRIL 27:  Former eBay CEO and...
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California gubernatorial hopeful Meg Whitman made a bundle as head of eBay. Where she spends it, her supporters say, is a matter of personal choice. She is currently choosing to spend it on buying her way into the governor’s office. Recent reports list her total costs closing in on $70 million — no big deal, since she has been quoted as saying $100 million on this phase wouldn’t pose any problem. This phase is still just the June primary.

Whitman has spent $68 million of her own money on the race so far, the Los Angeles Times reports. Whitman blasted the California airwaves with ads in March, according to the LA Times, but (opponent Steve) Poizner eventually made his own investments and gained traction with damaging attacks against Whitman’s stance on illegal immigration (he called her too soft on the issue). As a billionaire former business executive, Whitman was also hurt by the focus put on her ties to Goldman Sachs.

This space isn’t going to get into political endorsements or heavy-duty oppositions. And in any event, as a registered Democrat married to a confirmed Decline-to-state, votes from here are unlikely to affect the California Republican nomination.

But at what point does the investment of personal wealth throw up red flags about one’s motivations? Is wanting political office any different from wanting a Rolex watch or a ranch in Montana? When someone has no legislative experience, no known stands, no voting record (Whitman never bothered with voting much), how are we supposed to know what’s really driving the reach for power? Ross Perot spent about the same amount of his own money on his unsuccessful bid for the U.S. Presidency in 1992 as Whitman has thus far on a gubernatorial primary race. Perot dropped a little less on a similar adventure in 1996. He did have somewhat of a record of his convictions, and he was defended both times with arguments that it is a personal right to do whatever one wants with one’s personal wealth.

That is undoubtedly so. It’s a personal right. Why does it somehow feel wrong?


  1. That’s quite a discussion going on over at Naked Capitalism, Kingofcheap. I think I need a refresher course on the French Revolution and a crash course in economics to follow it. But the Whitman campaign issue seems simple: personal wealth enabling a political pursuit that would in any other respect be beyond consideration. Just doesn’t feel quite right.

  2. It doesn’t bother me that a person might desire to seek office and have some say in public policy. It does bother me that only a very narrow, unrepresentative slice of the population can afford such a venture. Our system now ensures that the only “wild cards” come from deep within the establishment. (Though I’d be a liar if I said I didn’t appreciate Ross Perot.)

    I’d like to see a race wherein she has to run against people who have real beefs with the system, like a laid-off factory worker or a college dropout who can’t afford the tuition hikes — people with real stakes in the game.

    1. And I’d like to see a laid-off factory worker or a priced-out college student have a chance to face off with Meg Whitman. Either might have a suggestion or two about what else she could do with $68 million.

      1. Of course, if either actually made such a suggestion about what she could do with her money, he/she would be accused of that cardinal sin, waging “class warfare.”

        I’m a little surprised that Ross Perot never took on the issue of ballot access — at least not to my knowledge. I know he was a single-issue budget hawk, but he could have given it the PR boost it needs and banked some populist political capital in the process.

        Oh, and speaking of class warfare, here’s a not too unrelated post at Naked Capitalism, re: Simon Schama —

  3. Those are good points to ponder, David, even if I had to Google C. Montgomery Burns — I am such a TV Luddite. California voters have elected a few people I’ve been less than enthusiastic about, but I don’t think Meg Whitman will add to their number. Still, it’s interesting, and a little alarming, to watch.

  4. Ms. Johns,

    A few observations:

    1) What a great party, you get to choose between a billionaire (Whitman) or millionaire (Poizner).

    2) Whitman is politically tone-deaf, she comes across exactly like C. Montgomery Burns running for Governor. She invites the press to a conference at a train station and when they have the audacity to ask a question her she had the press thrown out by her security team.

    3) Poizner is clobbering her from the right, driving her further to the right, guaranteeing that in the unlikely event that she does get the nomination, she will have positioned herself so far to the right that she could never win a general election.

    4) In its 160 year history, the California Republican Party has never nominated a woman for a state-wide office, much less got one elected. Even today, there are hardly any Republican women in elected office in California. There are no Republican women in state-wide offices at all, only one in entire congressional from California (Sonny Bono’s widow representing Palm Springs), and just a handful in the state legislature (one is the state senate and five in the state legislature).

    How much money she is spending might be a concern if she had a chance of getting elected.

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