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How to spend $140,000,000 on American politics

By Ezra Klein

Meg Whitman's losing campaign to become governor of California cost her $140,000,000. Ouch. Matt Yglesias takes a moment to offer rich people with political ambitions some good advice: Start lower. "Self-finance a campaign for Mayor or State Treasurer or something. Try to do a good job. And then parlay your vast wealth into a leg up in your run for a major office."

I'd offer some more advice: Don't run for office. Or to put it differently, don't run for office unless you're doing it because you personally think it would be interesting and enjoyable to be a governor or senator or congressional representative for a while. If you've got $140,000,000, you could do a lot more to change the country than bankroll your own candidacy.

That sort of money could tip a half-dozen (or maybe a few dozen, depending on how good you are at this) close elections toward the candidate who thinks most like you -- and in the new, post-Citizens United era, no one will know it was you spending it. That will make a much bigger difference than taking office yourself. And then, when one of your candidates eventually becomes president, you can just get them to appoint you to the Cabinet position of your choice. And you'll probably have enough money left over to start a think tank or endow a research center or enlarge an existing institution devoted to pushing the issues you consider important.

By Ezra Klein  | November 8, 2010; 3:23 PM ET
 
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Comments

ha ha.

I wonder if Meg would have had more success offering 10 bucks to anyone that watches a 5 minute video about her vision at a local starbucks.

Posted by: AlessandroMachi | November 8, 2010 3:44 PM | Report abuse

for months, she blanketed the air waves with her commercials.
it was impossible to escape meg whitman's presence.
having only a manual radio in my car, it was impossible to find a station that was not overrun with her commercials.
each morning, i would think, "when will jerry brown counter this?"
as it turned out, he spent thirty million on his campaign, against her....and it seemed like months before we even heard a peep from him.
it was even hard to find his literature at the campaign headquarters, and they were sparse with their distribution and printing costs.
but it worked.
when people learned that she had not voted for so much of her adult life, it was almost inconceivable that her motives to become governor, were altruistic and honest.
i am so proud of the voters of california, in this election.
and i think that jerry brown is older and wiser, and is going to do his best for the state now.....and barbara boxer had such a hardwon contest, i think she is going to do a great job also.
many californians are breathing a whole lot easier this week.

Posted by: jkaren | November 8, 2010 3:56 PM | Report abuse

"..and in the new, post-Citizens United era, no one will know it was you spending it."

Ezra, like most crying-in-their-beer liberals lately, continues to blame the 'corrputing influence' of corporate dollars that flooded campaigns as the reason for Republicans success this year.

What Ezra doesn't want you to know, as the Center for Responsive Politics and Ezra's own Washington Post already reported, is that 55% of 'corporate' donations went to DEMOCRATS this year.

So if Ezra is right about the 'corrupting influence of Citizens United, then he can only fairly conclude that Democrat-progressive losses should have been even larger than they were last week :o).

Posted by: dbw1 | November 8, 2010 4:03 PM | Report abuse

What a good piece! Thank you, Ezra.

Posted by: guyol | November 8, 2010 4:05 PM | Report abuse

@jkaren: "for months, she blanketed the air waves with her commercials. it was impossible to escape meg whitman's presence."

Pat Caddell and others have argued that that is why she lost. You do not win (in fact, you make it easier to lose) elections by constantly exposing yourself to the voter. You end up with irritation and fatigue. Simply put, she would have been much better off if she had spent $70 million instead of $140 million.

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | November 8, 2010 4:21 PM | Report abuse

@jkaren: "for months, she blanketed the air waves with her commercials. it was impossible to escape meg whitman's presence."

Pat Caddell and others have argued that that is why she lost. You do not win (in fact, you make it easier to lose) elections by constantly exposing yourself to the voter. You end up with irritation and fatigue. Simply put, she would have been much better off if she had spent $70 million instead of $140 million.

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | November 8, 2010 4:21 PM | Report abuse

well, her hubris lost her the election.
and we are all the better for it.
:-)

Posted by: jkaren | November 8, 2010 4:47 PM | Report abuse

dbw1, nowhere in the piece does Ezra argue that corporate donations "caused" the Dem losses this year. I think Ezra's preferred explaination, and I say this because he repeats it all the time, is that the Dems did poorly because the economy is horrible.

You can think that Citizens United was a bad decision and that there's too much money in politics regardless of which team you support and which team won the most recent election.

Posted by: MosBen | November 8, 2010 4:58 PM | Report abuse

The Meg Whitmans of the world are in politics for the ego gratification - they are addicted to the game, not the score. Meg Whitman doing anonymous good would be as likely as flying to the moon.

Posted by: Frank43 | November 8, 2010 6:44 PM | Report abuse

jkaren wrote:

"i am so proud of the voters of california, in this election.
and i think that jerry brown is older and wiser, and is going to do his best for the state now.....and barbara boxer had such a hardwon contest, i think she is going to do a great job also."


Whew, I am sure glad of that. Now we don't have to worry about rescuing Calif from it's impending bankruptcy, since they are going to do a great job.

Posted by: 54465446 | November 8, 2010 9:05 PM | Report abuse

Two words in response: Michael Bloomberg. He's been a great mayor for New York - a real long-range planner and a skilled fiscal manager.
Okay, maybe he's the exception that proves the rule. And I didn't follow the Whitman campaign, but I gather she lost because she was a Republican in California. Didn't they pretty much all lose?

Posted by: sprung4 | November 8, 2010 9:18 PM | Report abuse

54465446 cancel prop 13 and stop incarcerating nonviolent drug offenders and problem solved. californians need to pay for the govt they want.

Posted by: srw3 | November 8, 2010 9:23 PM | Report abuse

"californians need to pay for the govt they want." Posted by: srw3

It is to be devoutly hoped that the new Republican Congress will make sure that they do, and not force the rest of us to bail them out.

Posted by: bgmma50 | November 8, 2010 10:57 PM | Report abuse

As a Californian, I received my 13th and 14th pieces of pro-Meg glossy, pricey mailed flyers the day after the election. We do have a robust recycling program here, which helps.

Posted by: pbkritek | November 9, 2010 11:47 AM | Report abuse

Or imagine how many people you could feed and shelter in Haiti?

Posted by: sailor0245 | November 9, 2010 3:35 PM | Report abuse

Campaign Finance will explode in 2012. The Citizens United decision has thrown out over a hundred years of rules governing coporate contributions to campaign efforts. The Roberts Court has given corporations the same speech rights as citizens, except that many corporations have millions to spend and taken together, can dominate media markets. This gives corporations "super rights", rights that far exceed those of the average American, who can't throw so much money at the issue. And these corporations, along with the ultra wealthy and even foreign organizations, can do all of this in secret. This is truly a dire develop for our democracy. Both Republican and Democratic legislators have long known the dangers of letting corporations dominate the political discussion with their agendas. One counter to this disaster is the DISCLOSE ACT, which would at least identify who these corporations are. The Act was killed by the Republicans. But it will come up for consideration again. 2010 was a hint of the explosion in secret campaign spending. 2012 will be a debacle. Please help us pass the Disclose Act. True democracy depends on it.
http://www.demanddisclosurenow.org

Posted by: DanielRCobb | November 9, 2010 4:00 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: DanielRCobb:

"...The Roberts Court has given corporations the same speech rights as citizens..."
---------------------
Actually, they have more rights than citizens. They are not bound by any workplace rules like the pundit from MSNBC.

Posted by: jgmann | November 9, 2010 4:22 PM | Report abuse

You forgot about the part where they're then vilified by the White House and the liberal media (ala the Koch brothers).

Posted by: bgarst | November 9, 2010 10:17 PM | Report abuse

bgmma50 said: It is to be devoutly hoped that the new Republican Congress will make sure that they do, and not force the rest of us to bail them out.

California pays more to the feds than we get back. Maybe we could just keep our tax dollars in California and let everybody else take care of themselves.

sprung4: The Republicans lost in California because they ran lousy candidates. California is moderate politically. The GOP has tacked hard right and turned off a lot of voters. It's not that Republicans can't win in California. Good candidates can't get through a GOP primary as the base is consumed by wedge issues - abortion, guns, gays, creationism, etc.

Posted by: lkayed | November 10, 2010 1:30 AM | Report abuse

The only problem with your suggestions to rich people who want to run for office is that running for lower offices or helping others to get into office doesn't benefit the wealthy person. It's an act of selflessness. That goes against the very grain of someone who has amassed that amount of wealth. We can count on the very wealthy (99.99% of them) not to give a damn about anyone else but themselves.

Posted by: Just_The_Facts_Maam | November 11, 2010 3:21 PM | Report abuse

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