Almost $60 million. That’s how much Meg Whitman has committed so far — of her own money – to be California’s next governor. Whitman, who announced today that she’s lent herself another $20 million, can afford it. She’s a billionaire who made her fortune from the auction site eBay. What’s astonishing is that Whitman’s bid for the governorship is really just beginning. Assuming she wins the Republican nomination in June, she’ll then go up against the Democratic nominee (likely Jerry Brown) in a race to the November 2 election – more than six months from now. Based on her six months of campaigning, Whitman’s personal output will be at least $100 million – easily catapulting her into the Top 10 of self-financed political quests.
The good news for Whitman: Money gets you the ads that get you attention.
The bad news: Money doesn’t guarantee a candidate high office. Just ask Mitt Romney ($42 million), Ross Perot ($63 million), and Steve Forbes ($77 million on two campaigns) – all of whom spent fortunes in their pursuit of elected power, all of whom were rejected by voters. Whitman, though, is a glass-full kind of person, and she undoubtedly focuses on the multimillionaires who succeeded in shoveling their fortunes into campaign cash. Topping the list: Michael Bloomberg ($100 million), who’s been ensconced in New York’s mayorship for almost a decade.
Here’s a Top 10 list of rich people who tried to be elected. Some failed. Some succeeded. Some were Democrats. Some were Republicans (like Whitman). All of them made names for themselves, for better or for worse.
(10) Hillary Clinton. Running against Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential campaign, she spent at least $5 million of her own money to capsize her rival. Clinton had eyed the White House for years, but her personal wealth – and that of her husband – were overwhelmed by Obama’s star power.
(9) Jon Corzine. He hit the political big time – but at what price? The Wall Street executive forked over $60 million to win New Jersey’s Senate seat in 2000, $43 million more to take the New Jersey governor’s mansion in 2005 – and then had to beg for money in last year’s losing re-election bid.
(8) Ned Lamont. The man who would be Connecticut’s Senator spent $13 million of his personal cash on his losing 2006 run against Joe Lieberman. Like Corzine and Clinton, Lamont was a rich Democrat. Still is. That’s why, in his current campaign for Connecticut governor, he’s self-financing again – and will likely face a Republican challenger (Thomas C. Foley) who’s just like him: A multimillionaire skirting public-financing limits by ingesting his own money.
(7) Michael Huffington. When he ran for a California Senate seat in 1994, Huffington was more famous than his then-wife, Arianna – and much more wealthy. He used $28 million from his own coffers to take the Republican nomination and then go up against Democrat Dianne Feinstein. At the time, Huffington’s spending was a reported record: No other person in political history had “spent more of his personal fortune” seeking office.
(6) Katherine Harris. For Democrats, the Florida Republican came to symbolize everything wrong about Al Gore’s almost-win in the 2000 presidential election. Was it karma that led to Harris’ money woes in her losing 2006 Senate run? A desperate Harris pledged $10 million – her entire inheritance – to win the seat. “I’m going to commit my legacy from my father, $10 million,” Harris reportedly told Fox News then. “When I lost him, I said I would win this for my father.”
(5) Pete Ricketts. George W. Bush campaigned for him. So did Dick Cheney. That and almost $10 million of his own money got Ricketts nowhere in his 2006 Nebraska Senate campaign. Ricketts, who made his money from his job at an online stock-trading company, called his self-financing an “investment” in his political future. That future never paid off.
(3) H. Ross Perot. In 1992, Perot used $63 million of his own money to launch his third-party candidacy for president. Saturday Night Live loved him (in the same way it loved Sarah Palin). Nineteen million Americans voted for Perot, meaning the billionaire spent more than $3 for every vote he received. The money was chump change for someone ranked as one of America’s richest people.
(2) Michael Bloomberg. As a “Seinfeld” character might say, Bloomberg is just like Perot – only politically successful. Bloomberg is the eighth-wealthiest American, according to Forbes magazine. In his effort to retain his status as New York’s mayor, Bloomberg spent more than $100 million last year – on top of the $85 million he spent in 2005 and $74 million in 2001. The total for three terms: $259 million. To put it in perspective, that’s about the same amount that Sony just paid for its deal with Michael Jackson’s estate.
(1) Blair Hull. Blair who? Few people around the nation remember Hull, the man who went up against Obama in 2004, when the future president was running for a Senate seat. Hull, a Republican, spent $28 million of his own money in the campaign. Politics has a short memory. If Whitman loses her race for governor, she’ll be another Blair Hull. If she wins, she’ll be like Bloomberg – rich, powerful, and the talk of the town.