One campaign, $68 million and counting

SUNNYVALE, CA - APRIL 27:  Former eBay CEO and...
Image by Getty Images via @daylife

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?

Saving for Retirement: Take Two

About those initiatives to encourage Americans to save for retirement (see below)? There are those around the country who would say, Phooey. Or possibly something stronger.

Born in the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s, these are people who did everything right: they saved a respectable percentage of all earnings, invested cautiously in companies that seemed to be socially and fiscally responsible, some of which were supposed to be subject to regulation, and switched funds to other choices when those companies acted badly. They paid off their mortgages and credit cards on time (credit card companies never liked them) and lived within budgets. Most of these folks raised their own children on the time-honored formula that said when you have a dollar you give ten cents to your church or synagogue, ten cents to charity, put ten cents into U.S. Savings Bonds, etc, etc, and only with the last five cents would you buy an ice cream cone.

These citizens have now watched their IRAs fade to nothing and their investments income disappear. Want an example? That $10,000 carefully saved for a cash cushion in case of an emergency and invested in a money market fund or savings account once could be counted on to grow, or to pay for a weekend trip. Now, thanks to the Fed’s target rate for fed funds it might earn $25 in a year. The citizens do not notice any hardship, meanwhile, being visited upon the CEOs of those investment fund companies, or anybody at Goldman Sachs.

Beyond saying Phooey a lot, these citizens are worried. The same people who got them in the mess Mr. Obama inherited now seem to be running the economic show in Washington. The citizens want universal healthcare, but can’t help wondering if they’re going to be sunk, themselves, by a catastrophe for which they no longer have funds. The citizens can’t exactly re-enter the workplace.

In short, the prospect of golden years ahead for others is not ameliorating the tarnish of their own.