Wednesday, March 24, 2010

How To Buy An Election

Real estate prices may currently be depressed, but there's one property that at least one person is willing to buy for millions of dollars: the California Governor's Mansion. Meg Whitman, whose personal wealth has been estimated in the billions, has already spent nearly $25 million just in the Republican Primary, and that election is still a couple of months away.

From the Los Angeles Times:

What should an aspiring candidate for governor do if she has never run a campaign before and wants to nearly double her lead in polls as her party's primary election approaches?

Here is Meg Whitman's answer: Spend $358,439 a day, $14,935 an hour, $249 a minute.

The billionaire former EBay chief has distributed $27.2 million -- almost all of it her own money -- to hundreds of businesses and people in the 76 days between Jan. 1 and March 17, a campaign statement filed with the state Monday shows.

In approximately that time, she built a soaring lead over fellow Republican Steve Poizner and a narrow one over Democrat Jerry Brown in a poll released last week.

Those numbers are staggering, but how they break down suggests that maybe Ms. Whitman just may not be the person to lead a state struggling financially:

Whitman has paid $770,000 to her staff since Jan. 1 and at least $106,443 to private charter airplane companies. ...

Her campaign has been a bonanza for political consultants. She paid 28 individuals or firms more than $2 million for consulting services, according to her disclosure. ...

Whitman has injected $39 million of her own money into her race. She also has raised $1.1 million this year from independent sources, but she paid $531,269 to professional fundraisers, her filing shows -- a high ratio of expenses to fundraising, experts say. ...

Her campaign paid $667,411 to Tokoni Inc., a firm run by former associates at EBay, for Internet, e-mail, website and other services.

While nobody expects a candidate to shop at the .99 Store for the campaign, spending more than a half a million dollars to raise just over one million doesn't seem like much of a bargain. Sure, it's her money and she can spend it anyway she likes as long as it's legal, but is she going to spend tax dollars the same way?

More important, however, are the facts that she can spend that much money out of her personal funds and that it is working, at least at this point. Her Republican opponent, while well-off, doesn't have the kind of personal fortune to tap that Meg Whitman has. Her presumed Democratic opponent, Jerry Brown, doesn't either. Have we finally reached the point that only the wealthiest of Americans can run for political office?

It certainly looks that way, and that scares the hell out of me. I'm not alone in that fear:

Derek Cressman, Western states regional director for Common Cause, a civic group, said wealthy candidates largely have the political arena to themselves.

"I do feel like our elections are now out of striking distance for regular people, and the only way you can run for office is to be personally wealthy yourself or be really well-connected to rich people," he said.
[Emphasis added]

Ms. Whitman justifies the expenditures by noting that people just don't know her and California is a big state, requiring lots of travel and lots of television commercials to introduce herself. Of course people don't know her. She's never run for office before. Hell, she couldn't even be bothered to vote in most elections this past decade and hasn't shown any sense of civic engagement at any level.

Well, if nothing else, she certainly is qualified as the poster child for what is wrong with our election system, one that is in dire need of some correction if democracy is to finally take hold in this country. Reinstatement of the Fairness Doctrine and the passage of a public financing of elections bill could conceivably put an end to the purchase of elections, but what do I know. I'm not even a millionaire.

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Anonymous Jamie said...

We got there when Bloomberg became Mayor of New York until he gets bored.

8:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Arnie should sell the governorship on eBay.

6:27 AM  

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