Billionaire Meg Whitman spent $88 million in a primary election for governor. Yes, it's for the most populated state in the union: California is home to 38 million people. But still, only a tiny fraction of them turn out to vote in primaries. After all the votes were counted, she received a whopping 1,101,528 -- or 64%. Her personal purse secured her as the GOP nominee for Governor of California.
Quick math: That breaks down to about $80 per vote. Meg Whitman, former CEO of eBay, Republican who's railed against bulging government budgets, just spent the equivalent of a brand new high-end 4GB iPod Shuffle on each person who actually voted for her. "Buy now."
To contrast that number, the winner of the Democratic primary for governor of California, Jerry Brown spent $200,000 in the primary and he received 1,478,752 votes, 377,224 more than Whitman. The self-described penny-pincher Brown spent a paltry $.14 per vote.
A couple of things: Why would average Californians, hardworking regular people, want to give money or time to elect Mommy Morebucks? Imagine that fundraising letter: "Meg needs your support. Please send whatever you can -- $20 can secure her a quarter of a vote. Donate today!" The message? Take back Sac from wasteful bureaucrats and give it to a wasteful billionaire.
But also the reason why we give our elected officials a salary is so that they don't have to have a personal fortune to hold public office. The trend in California's 2010 primary was for campaigns to be a quaint vanity project for the ridiculously wealthy. Whitman's main opponent in the race was Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, whose previous bout as a high tech entrepreneur enabled him to have $24 million to sink into his primary campaign (with 461,823 votes he spent around $52 per). All that and he lost by a proportionate amount. But don't worry about ol' Not-As-Richie, that cost is under "promotion," and according to my CPA, is a Schedule A deductible.
Poizner ran for lower taxes!
Whitman has said that her cap on donating to her own campaign is $150 million dollars. She spent half of that on the primary. This is a governor's race. One state. Just to put this into perspective, in 2008 John McCain spent $350 million total to run nationally for president. That's all 50 states.
Whitman's campaign will eventually ask people to phone bank on behalf of the candidate. Much like BP asking for volunteers to clean up oil in the Gulf, it'll be seen as tone-deaf. Money can buy you many things, but not charity for being wealthy beyond comprehension and cheap.
What this means is the Republican primary in California was won by the highest bidder, (insert obligatory eBay joke here). It was won by the person who knew she was going to keep upping the ante until it was too steep for anyone else.
Not the one with best ideas, or the most experience, or the greatest vision: just the most cash to blow, making wealth the only political virtue of any value.
It's not just unprecedented. It's not just scary in an undemocratic way. It's obscene. To paraphrase Justice Potter Stewart, I know it when I see it.