As we've discussed before, one of the unique features of the 2010 election season is that despite the fact that America is mired in any number of soul-destroying, seemingly intractable problems, there's no shortage of people who want to be put in charge of those soul-destroying, seemingly intractable problems and are willing to spend untold sums of their own money for the privilege.
I cannot even begin to fathom, for example, why anyone would actually desire to be the governor of California, but Meg Whitman desperately wants to, for some reason, and has spent "more than $90 million of her own money" toward that goal. Which is weird, because I'm pretty sure California retails for around $70 million.
In today's New York Times, Damien Cave and Michael Luo point out what's truly strange about the Rise of the Self-Funders:
Call it the Great Recession paradox. Even as voters express outrage at the insider culture of big bailouts and bonuses, their search for political saviors has led them to this: a growing crowd of über-rich candidates, comfortable in boardrooms and country clubs, spending a fortune to remake themselves into populist insurgents.
Is it supposed to work like this, where the wealthiest and best-connected people in society can actually lay claim to outsider status, to presumably "shake up Washington?" Not really! If you are titanically wealthy, the last thing you want to do is change the system. Most voters seem to understand this. As the Times points out:
Historically, self-financed candidates have tended to lose. The National Institute on Money in State Politics recently found that of those candidates who received more than half of all campaign contributions from themselves or an immediate family member, only 11 percent won from 2000 to 2009.
On the other hand, Meg Whitman is spending $90 million to run California! Will this year be different for the self-financed candidate? Let's revisit our self-funder all-stars, to see how they are faring.
Tim D'Annunzio: The $1 million that D'Annunzio pulled from his own wallet to finance his race for North Carolina's 8th District House seat doesn't look like much against the rest of the field, but among House competitors nationwide, only three candidates spent more of their own money. Unfortunately, D'Annunzio is dunzo: he pushed his opponent, Harold Johnson into a runoff, but Johnson won it handily, thanks to a campaign from North Carolina GOP chairman Tom Fetzer, who deemed D'Annunzio "unfit for public office at any level." Now, the House will continue to lack a member with personal knowledge of the Ark of the Covenant's whereabouts.
Carly Fiorina: Demon sheepstress Fiorina won her primary against Tom Campbell and that other guy (Chuck DeVore) and will take on incumbent Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.). Fiorina has loaned herself $5.5 million in pursuit of the goal, but, as the AP reported this week, "it's unclear how much of her personal fortune she's willing to spend in her...run." Boxer is outraising her, and Fiorina is considered to be "at a fundraising disadvantage in many parts of California, including her home turf in the Silicon Valley" -- where people remember her as the incompetent head of Hewlett-Packard. Though there's an idea! Maybe she can destroy the Boxer campaign by acquiring it in a merger!
Jeff Greene: Wow, Jeff Greene, y'all! Greene pledged to spend $40 million just to run a primary campaign against Kendrick Meek for a shot at the Florida Senate seat. He seems to have money to burn and access to all sorts of flammable accelerant. It's Greene who shows up in the lede of Damien Cave and Michael Luo's Times piece, and it's no wonder why: the man rolls like a playboy. Recently, however, he's been hit with an accusation from the nation of Belize, which says that his 145-foot yacht destroyed a coral reef five years ago, and he owes $1.87 million in fines. This may not damage Greene's campaign, but, for what it's worth, my experience is that coastal Floridians take the preservation of coral reefs pretty seriously.
Linda McMahon: Linda McMahon is currently fending off a stealth campaign from her GOP opponent Rob Simmons, who wisely saw that his only shot at beating someone who could outspend him was to not actively campaign at all. McMahon remains the favorite in the race, but is taking no chances. The Connecticut Mirror reported this week that McMahon has "put another $7.5 million of her personal fortune into her U.S. Senate campaign over the last three months, helping to ensure the Connecticut contest will be among the most expensive in the nation."
Steve Poizner: In most cases, when a candidate puts $22 million of their own money into his campaign, it can put a scare into their opponents. Unfortunately, Steve Poizner was running against Meg Whitman, who could buy and sell his candidacy several times over. And so Steve Poizner is no more!
Rick Scott: Rick Scott's ability to spend his own money has all but decimated the hopes of his primary opponent Bill McCollum. Polls out this week have Scott 14 points ahead and cruising to a showdown with Democratic gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink. And while Scott may be one of the worst human beings on the planet -- a record-setting fraudster who preyed on Medicare recipients -- the one thing you couldn't say about the man was that he was a Birther. Until today!
Terrence Wall: The day after we featured Wall as one of the self-funding all-stars of 2010, he withdrew from the Wisconsin Senate race. Peace out, Mr. Wall!
Bill White: Democrat Bill White has sunk $1.3 million of his own money into his race against Rick Perry for the Texas statehouse. Back in May, White was basically the favorite of urban Democrats running against Perry's rural Republicans. (As well as Perry's urban Republicans!) It hasn't been entirely fruitless: some June polls have cast the race as a dead heat. The latest Rasmussen poll has Perry ahead by nine.
Meg Whitman: And so we end where we began, with Whitman outspending and outpacing Poizner to move into the next round against California political mainstay Jerry Brown. Whitman's wealth remains one huge obstacle, but lately, it's been a secondary problem for Brown, who seems to be struggling to mount a modern-style campaign.
So, three down, six to go. So far, it's anybody's guess whether this campaign season ends up being the year the self-funders break through. Would you care to bet against them? Probably not!
[Elyse Siegel contributed to this post.]