This post has been updated.
The barriers to spending lots of money in political campaigns keep dropping, but they haven't been accompanied by any assurances that spending all that dough will do any good. In 2012, American Crossroads spent nearly $104 million during the general election. Sunlight Foundation found that 1.3 percent of that money went toward the result the super PAC was betting on.
One of the more old-fashioned ways of spending an arm and a leg on elections also has a spotty track record. Wealthy candidates have propped up their campaigns for decades, but few have made it work. That's right -- rich candidates who also serve as their campaign's top fundraiser rarely ever win. And yet, every year, more run, determined to defeat history.
There are a few outliers. In 1984, Jay Rockefeller spent $12 million in a campaign for a West Virginia Senate seat he's still keeping warm. Former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg spent $108.4 million on his 2009 campaign.
The list of wealthy candidates who haven't made it is much longer. In 2010, Republican Meg Whitman spent $175 million in the California gubernatorial election. She lost. By a lot. Connecticut Senate candidate -- and former executive at World Wrestling Entertainment -- Linda McMahon spent nearly $49 million while losing her 2010 race. She has since moved on to be a mega-donor in her spare time.
Last year, a political scientist wrote at the New York Times, "in 2012 only four of the top 12 self-funders won House elections. And only one of 12 won Senate elections. In most cases, the winners came from safe seats; the losers had little chance anyway." The Center for Responsive Politics reported that 14.5 percent of self-funded congressional candidates have won their races since 2002. The National Institute of Money in State Politics found that 6,171 of the more than 75,000 candidates who ran for state office from 2002 to 2009 provided the bulk of their campaign's funding. Only 668 of them won.
Despite all that dismal preamble, there are plenty of self-funding candidates determined to prove history wrong in 2014. A few of them have primaries coming up on Tuesday in Michigan. There's Brian Ellis, who is running against incumbent Rep. Justin Amash in the state's 3rd District race. If Ellis hadn't donated more than $1 million to his campaign, Amash's fundraising advantage would be considerable, according to the Michigan Campaign Finance Network. But Amash still has more money in the bank than his opponent. A local poll from this month had Amash up by more than 20 percentage points.
In other races in the state, big self-funders are having more luck. In the open seat in District 4, Paul Mitchell have given $3.2 million to his campaign. He has a big lead in the polls. In District 11, it looks like Republican lawyer David Trott, who has spent $2.4 million on his race against incumbent Rep. Kerry Bentivolio, will have an easy primary win next Tuesday. Unopposed Republican Senate candidate Terri Lynn Land has given $2.9 million to her campaign.
Whether all these candidates can propel themselves to a win in November, however, remains to be seen. History definitely isn't in their favor.
In Senate races, the only other self-funder who has found luck this year is Georgia businessman David Perdue, who just bested his Republican opponent, Rep. Jack Kingston, in a primary runoff last week. Perdue donated about $3.2 million to his campaign, and will face a difficult race against Democratic Senate candidate Michelle Nunn in the fall. Republican Senate candidate Matt Bevin, who lost his Kentucky primary against Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, gave nearly $1.6 million to his campaign. Republican Senate candidate Mark Jacobs lost in Iowa and Republican Senate candidate Sid Dinsdale lost a primary in Nebraska.
For the handful of self-funders who made it past primaries to November's ballot -- Democratic Senate candidate David Alameel in Texas and Democratic House candidate Sean Eldridge in New York, for example -- they have a lot to prove, and a lot to learn. Self-funders aren't only a victim of the perceptions that hound a rich candidate. Perhaps an even bigger barrier to victory is the fact that most of them have no political experience. In 2010, Jamelle Bouie quoted campaign finance expert Jennifer Steen in an article on self-funded candidates: "It's also not enough to buy good advice; campaigning is a skill, 'and like any skill,' Steen notes, 'it takes practice.'"
And, as an article in Campaigns and Elections points out, being your own top fundraiser cuts out the valuable connection that asking supporters to help your campaign gives a campaign: "Cut this opportunity to get involved, and you cut a supporter’s connection to your campaign," campaign consultant Dan Kelly writes. "Moreover, you do something even more dangerous – you tell them that you don’t need, and don’t want, the help of voters." And self-funders, who start their campaigns with a built-in distance from voters because of their background and lack of retail politicking know-how, could use this connection more than most.
Some self-funders might make it to Washington, D.C. this year -- a few always do -- but there are far more efficient and dependable ways of becoming a politician these days, if you've got the patience.
Correction: An earlier version of this post said that Linda McMahon ran in the Nevada senate race in 2010. She obviously ran in the Connecticut senate race against incumbent Sen. Richard Blumenthal instead.