The elections are over and the numbers are rolling in. This year, candidates across the country contributed millions of dollars to finance their own campaigns. Connecticut was no exception; Linda McMahon (R), the former WWE executive, spent at least $50 million in her Senatorial race.
Similarly, in the New York gubernatorial race, Republican candidate Carl Paladino contributed approximately $10 million to his campaign. The largest investment, however, occurred in California. Meg Whitman, the former CEO of eBay, dropped $142 million.
Yet the most interesting part of these expensive campaigns was their results. Of the eight candidates who independently contributed three-and-a-half million dollars or more to their own campaigns, only one was successful. Ron Johnson, the Republican Senatorial candidate from Wisconsin, spent $7 million of his own money and secured the position over Democrat Russ Feingold.
Though Richard Blumenthal – who won the open Senate seat in Connecticut this past Tuesday – supplied $2.2 million to his own campaign, his spending paled in comparison to McMahon’s contributions. Even so, despite his own expenditures, Blumenthal was quick to criticize McMahon for attempting to “buy” the seat. In reality, McMahon did spend approximately $100 per vote, but she is not alone. For Meg Whitman, who surpassed state records for personal expenditures in her campaigning, each vote cost about $55.
According to Jerry Brown, California’s governor-elect, a candidate needs more than wads of cash to win an election. “It takes brains, a little bit of luck, and a lot of people pulling together.”
Despite the fact that many self-funded campaigns were unsuccessful this year, perhaps personal contributions are not all bad. Linda McMahon claimed that she used her own earnings alone because she felt it was important not to owe anyone favors when she got to Washington D.C. Additionally, McMahon stated, “I felt it was important not to take special interest or PAC money.”
It is certainly indisputable that politicians have long been criticized for being too deeply entwined with PACs, lobbyists and corporations. While few political hopefuls have personal fortunes as large as McMahon’s or Whitman’s, there is a grain of truth in McMahon’s statement. Within Congress alone, many scandals have risen regarding agreements made with corporations or special interest groups. Many of our Representatives and Senators begin their political careers beholden to individuals and corporations – and this indebtedness is exploited so that PACs, lobbyists, and corporations wield significant power in American politics.
Perhaps we should take these aspects into consideration before criticizing candidates for personally funding their campaigns. It is not clear whether Americans’ opinions were impacted by the amount of money candidates like Linda McMahon or Carl Paladino spent on their campaigns. While there appears to be a relationship between the sum of money these candidates spent and their lack of success in the election, this could simply be a coincidence.
Whether self-funding a campaign impacts a candidate’s chance of winning the election or not, political hopefuls should be careful regardless, particularly in using media sources for advertising. As Jerry Brown’s campaign stated, “There’s only so many times you can tell somebody something. Name recognition is good, but repetition of ads can be very debilitating.”
In the 2010 midterm elections, it was apparent that money may not necessarily buy you a political appointment. Whether this trend is consistent in future elections or not is yet to be determined, but personally financed campaigns may entail some significant benefits for American politics as a whole. Despite some self-funded candidates’ lack of success in this election, politicians should not rule out the idea of entirely rejecting PAC and special interest money. It would certainly help ensure that our government officials do not spend their careers in Washington indebted to someone else.