Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Price Of Admission

Tim Rutten, columnist for the Los Angeles Times, noted a couple of records smashed in California this week in his latest effort. The first: this is the longest California has gone without a budget, which was due July 1. The second: mega-millionaire Meg Christian has spent more of her own money on her campaign for governor than any other politician in this country.

...According to the most recent campaign finance reports, the former EBay chief executive has spent an astonishing $119 million out of her own pocket on her campaign. She already has surpassed the previous record of $109 million that New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg spent to win a third term. And there still are seven weeks to go in her tight race against the state's attorney general and former governor, Jerry Brown.

In fact, Whitman now has spent more of her own money than any American candidate ever has spent running for any office, including president. (Ross Perot set the federal record when he spent just $63.5 million on his failed third-party bid.) Whitman's contributions to herself make her California's biggest political contributor of the past decade, according to the Fair Political Practices Commission. The next biggest is film producer/green industrialist Steve Bing, who has doled out $58,050,783 to a wider variety of liberal initiatives and Democratic candidates. Rounding out the top five are three other major self-financiers: Republican Steve Poizner ($43,205,282), Democrat Steve Westly ($41,728,277) and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger ($25,871,398).

As Rutten points out, at least the Mayor of New York refused any outside contributions. His campaign was entirely self-financed so he could claim that he wouldn't be beholden to any special interests. Whitman, on the other hand, is busy collecting contributions from all the usual suspects. She claims she knows how to withstand the pressure from those who think they are buying access. We won't know, however, until she takes office if she wins. You see, Meg Whitman has never run for office, much less won, so she has no record. Like the current Governor of California, she has no political experience. All she has is her touted business successes, also like the current Governor. We see where that has gotten the state.

Should she and other wealthy people be precluded from running for elected office? Certainly not, but her lavish campaign budget raises the bar for those not of the monied class. Who would want to take on a campaign against a gazillionaire with unlimited resources, who would outspend in every respect on every issue?

It might be different if Whitman really was bringing something to the table other than her own fortune and her own business model, especially during these tough times in California, but she isn't, as Tim Rutten notes:

Her major budget proposals — she wants to throw 40,000 middle-class state employees out of work with unemployment already running more than 12%, and she advocates abolishing capital gains taxes, thereby further enriching people like herself while income inequality grows and middle-class salaries and wages continue to decline — are neither novel nor evidence of independence. They are, rather, pretty much what her background and base of financial support would predict.

And, as Arnold Schwarzenegger discovered, her political base within the Republican Party is shallow. We don't have a budget because he can't jawbone the Republicans in the Legislature into any kind of compromise.

About the only solace I can find in this campaign is that even after all the millions she has spent on the campaign trail, the race is still close. It will all depend on voter turnout, I guess, and that is worrisome.

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