Wealthy, self-funded candidates found wins elusive
Thursday, November 4, 2010; 5:51 PM
LOS ANGELES -- Dipping into personal fortunes to self-finance a campaign this election season turned out to be a losing investment for several candidates trying to break into political office.
Former eBay chief executive Meg Whitman took the biggest gamble, spending $142 million in her losing effort to become California's next governor, a figure that covers the general election and her GOP primary race.
In Connecticut, former wrestling entertainment executive Linda McMahon is expected to have spent at least $50 million in a losing U.S. Senate bid. And in New York, millionaire developer Carl Paladino was expected to spend about $10 million in a losing governor's race against Democrat Andrew Cuomo.
California's newly elected governor, Jerry Brown, said his campaign showed that it takes more than money to succeed in politics.
"It takes brains and it takes a little bit of luck, and it takes a lot of people pulling together," he said.
Based on unofficial returns, he spent about $7.50 per vote by using about $30 million in campaign donations from others. Whitman spent the equivalent of $46 per vote from her personal fortune, based on her total spending in the primary and general election. That also does not count the more than $20 million she received from contributors.
Whitman dominated the state's airwaves for most of 2010. The strategy paid off in the primary, but the Brown campaign believes the ads became so repetitive that they lost their effectiveness.
"Throwing a lot of ads on the TV in the middle of the summer might not make a lot of sense," Brown said in an interview with The Associated Press. "There's only so many times you can tell somebody something. Name recognition is good, but repetition of ads can be very debilitating."
Perhaps the most important lesson from Election Day was that money simply can't overcome demographics. Republicans who spent big tended to run in states where the Democratic Party dominates.
"The money can certainly buy a candidate recognition, but it can't necessarily buy them love," said Douglas Schwartz, polling director at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut.
At a certain point, it doesn't matter how much a candidate spends. In McMahon's case, polls indicated that voters had grown tired of her advertising, Schwartz said. Based on unofficial results, she paid about $103 per vote from her personal account.
Federal financial reports have shown that McMahon and her husband have assets and investments worth more than $458 million.