Layne Gray isn't your typical investigative journalist. Philanthropist and founder of Vivanista, her mission is to empower women to be better fundraisers, organizers and volunteers. Yet when she poked around, she discovered that billionaire Meg Whitman may not be walking her talk with her foundation. While Whitman's campaign for Governor of California is rolling in the dough, spending reportedly $59 Million, her foundation, by comparison, has been largely dormant, with only a couple of questionable contributions. Sadly, the only donations trackable to date seem to be self-serving.
According to Gray's research, "political pundits anticipate she's willing to spend into the 9 figures to win." Imagine what that money could do for the State of California in its time of need. Instead, it's being used to fuel negative television advertisements and to spread other campaign propaganda.
Whatever you may think of Whitman, two things stood out in Gray's article:
1) There is so much more a woman of her wealth and education could be doing with her money for the world.
2) The amount she's using it for political benefit is skewing reality so far that there is no possible sense of equity between candidates in this weighted a playing field. It's a blatant example of what's wrong in our campaign financing system.
I have heard many good things about Whitman's leadership while she was CEO of eBay. As a corporate leader, her cv holds much to recommend her. Unfortunately, that does not easily translate to government. Nor does it mean her motives are entirely altruistic. Steve Poizner's campaign is tweeting and putting out online video ads claiming "Whitman's entire fortune is entwined with Goldman Sachs." They also claim she didn't vote for 28 years. Those are harsh accusations. Aside from that, if she were truly a global leader, wouldn't she have already shown it through philanthropic endeavors and other policy work?
It's wonderful to see a woman running a viable campaign for Governor of California. Unfortunately most of that money is her own. There is now proof that the playing field is level - if you have money. But the bottom line is Whitman would not be in this race if she didn't, and because of that money, the race - and public perception - is completely skewed. The only thing to do about it at this point is to raise awareness about her political history (or lack of) and vote for someone more experienced. At the same time, Californians have the opportunity to pass Prop. 15 and conduct a test through voluntary public financing of future Secretary of State races.
The economics and sociology behind why so few women are elected to public office are complex, but the bottom line is we need a much more level playing field where multiple qualified individuals can run for office, not just wealthy and well-connected candidates. Then we can pay a lot more attention to how candidates have spent their time in their communities: voting, contributing, volunteering and - ideally - actually leading.
Note: The author has previously written and edited articles for Vivanista, but she was not employed by Vivanista at the time the aforementioned article by Ms. Gray was written.