Money can't buy you love, but it can buy you a California gubernatorial primary. A just-released Field Poll shows Meg Whitman holding a better than two-to-one lead against Steve Poizner in her primary race. This after spending nearly $81 million dollars, or a little over $15 for every registered Republican voter in the state. Of course, what's $500,000 a-day when you're a billionaire? Petit cash for the bourgeois.
According to Mark DiCamillo, director of the Field Poll, Poizner and Whitman together have spent over $110 million to become the Republican nominee - obliterating previous records spent on a partisan primary in California history. Beyond that, this amount is more than what was spent on any presidential election until 1988 and is more than a third of what was spent, in total, in the 2000 presidential election. Jerry Brown, facing no serious challenge on the Democratic side, has spent less than a half million dollars so far on his race, about $1 for every $400 spent by the so-called fiscal conservatives. Brown often flies on budget conscious Southwest Airlines and is running an overall lean operation.
The irony, however, is in the messaging. After all, both Republican candidates are running to prove their conservative credentials on social and fiscal policy issues. Both of their websites speak to the plight of the common man and challenge voters to change the spending ways of Sacramento. The way to do that, Whitman's website declares, is to "put the brakes on the spending escalator in Sacramento." Poizner's site calls for spending caps. I guess if you're lavishly spending over $110 million simply to get to Sacramento it doesn't count.
Of course it must be easy for them to see how their campaigns and lifestyles would resonate with California's unemployed. Whitman has spent over a half million dollars on chartered plane services (when Southwest Airlines just won't do), and over a hundred thousand dollars on hotels like the Beverly Hills Hilton, U.S. Grant Luxury Collection Hotel in San Diego and the Bernardus Lodge in Winery in Carmel Valley. Her top political consultant makes $90,000/month. Poizner for his part is paying his campaign manager $25,000/month. Not a bad wage to come in second place. It does beg the question: if both candidates are so frivolous with their private money why should we believe they will magically become judicious with our public monies?
When all is said and done it appears that this Republican gubernatorial primary will have spent enough money to have cut a $150 check for each of California's unemployed workers. I bet people would have preferred the $150 over the TV ads. All of this spending...and what do voters really know about the candidates? Image ads abound with the Whitman campaign speaking in platitudes while avoiding most press conferences and shunning unscripted events. Poizner has gone so far to the right in his campaign he's attempting to convince voters that our $20 billion problem is one of illegal immigration.
California is facing legitimate problems. Problems that shouldn't be left to $70 million dollar ad campaigns and billionaires trying to buy an election. But if we think this is bad, Californians should brace themselves for the general election onslaught. It sure must be nice to be a billionaire.