Of the various things that seem odd about American politics, the one that strikes me repeatedly is the amount of money candidates spend in efforts to be elected. This set of midterm elections has been stunning because of the sizeable fortunes that were spent, but also done with little positive result in terms of wins. California gubernatorial candidate, Meg Whitman, was famed for her spending $175 million of her own money, shattering previous records. She gained 3 million votes: that’s about $58 per vote. No doubt, she could have spent much less to lose. What a loss, too? Jerry Brown will forever be ‘Mr. California’?
But she was not alone. As you check the list, you will see that amongst the top 10 self-funding candidates, their accumulated spending was less than Meg Whitman’s! From what I read, she was not that enamoured of representative politics before, judging by her lack of voting for 28 years, and called her own record “atrocious”. So, what possessed her to spend a good chunk of her $1.3 billion net worth in getting others to be less atrocious? I look forward to answers to that question.
The Center for Responsive Politics calculates that of 58 candidates who used over $500,000 of their own money in the 2010 Federal races, fewer than one in five won. Wow! But, this is not far from the norm for such candidates. Money can’t buy you love, and in the US, cannot buy you a seat. Ironically, in some of the countries often demonized for their lack of democracy, money spent to win seats tends to win seats :-).
I could be pious sounding and mention that a fraction of that money spent in other ways could have improved the lot of many people. Maybe, the former CEO of eBay may be tempted to sell some of the election campaign memorabilia on that site. Keep your eyes open.