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Dipping into their personal fortunes to finance a political campaign turned out to be a losing investment for several candidates trying to break into political office.
Former eBay chief executive Meg Whitman took the biggest gamble, spending $142 million in her losing effort to become California’s next governor, a figure that covers the general election and her GOP primary race.
In Connecticut, former wrestling entertainment executive Linda McMahon is expected to have spent at least $50 million in a losing U.S. Senate bid. And in New York, millionaire developer Carl Paladino was expected to spend about $10 million in a losing governor’s race against Democrat Andrew Cuomo.
California’s newly elected governor, Jerry Brown, said his campaign showed that it takes more than money to succeed in politics.
“It takes brains and it takes a little bit of luck, and it takes a lot of people pulling together,” he said.
Based on unofficial returns, he spent about $7.50 per vote by using about $30 million in campaign donations from others. Whitman spent the equivalent of $46 per vote from her personal fortune, based on her total spending in the primary and general election. That also does not count the more than $20 million she received from contributors.
Whitman dominated the state’s airwaves for most of 2010. The strategy paid off in the primary, but the Brown campaign believes the ads became so repetitive that they lost their effectiveness.
“Throwing a lot of ads on the TV in the middle of the summer might not make a lot of sense,” Brown said in an interview with The Associated Press. “There’s only so many times you can tell somebody something. Name recognition is good, but repetition of ads can be very debilitating.”
Perhaps the most important lesson from Election Day was that money simply can’t overcome demographics. Republicans who spent big tended to run in states where the Democratic Party dominates.
“The money can certainly buy a candidate recognition, but it can’t necessarily buy them love,” said Douglas Schwartz, polling director at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut.
At a certain point, it doesn’t matter how much a candidate spends. In McMahon’s case, polls indicated that voters had grown tired of her advertising, Schwartz said. Based on unofficial results, she paid about $103 per vote from her personal account.
Federal financial reports have shown that McMahon and her husband have assets and investments worth more than $458 million.
The experiences of wealthy, self-funded candidates were mixed around the country.
Just one of eight of the federal candidates spending more than $3.5 million of their own money won Tuesday, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign spending.
The exception was Republican Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, who defeated Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold. Johnson spent about $7 million of his own money on the race.
The center found that just four of the 32 federal candidates who spent more than $1 million of their own money through mid-October won Tuesday, including McMahon’s opponent, Richard Blumenthal. Even though Blumenthal loaned his campaign more than $2.2 million, he was able to characterize himself as the financial underdog in the race, given McMahon’s largesse.
McMahon has been unapologetic about her spending, even though Blumenthal had accused her of attempting to buy the Senate seat.
“I absolutely decided from the beginning that I was going to invest my money, money that I’ve earned, to fund this campaign, because I felt it was important not to take special interest or PAC money and not owe any favors to anyone when I got to Washington,” she told a business group recently.
Whitman made a similar argument to California voters. She surpassed the previous record for personal spending in a campaign — the $109 million New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg spent in his quest for a third term.
Another wealthy California businesswoman, former Hewlett-Packard Co. chief executive Carly Fiorina, also tapped her personal fortune as she mounted an unsuccessful attempt to unseat Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer.
She spent about $6.5 million of her own money, the vast majority of it in the GOP primary. In that race, it proved to be a deciding factor against two lightly funded opponents.
In the general election, Fiorina spent just $1 million from a fortune estimated between $25.6 million and $115.9 million, according to candidate disclosure forms.
Deep-pocketed candidates for state office fared somewhat better.
Florida’s Rick Scott spent about $73 million of his own money to win the governor’s race, by far the most ever invested in a Florida election. He narrowly defeated Democrat Alex Sink, the state’s chief financial officer.
In Michigan, Rick Snyder, an Ann Arbor venture capitalist, easily defeated Democrat Virg Bernero. The former president of computer maker Gateway Inc. had kicked off his campaign with a Super Bowl ad in which he declared himself “one tough nerd.” He spent about $6 million in the primary.
Other state candidates ended up like Whitman, on the losing end despite tapping large bank accounts.
Cuomo made passing references to Paladino’s spending in the New York governor’s race, saying he wasn’t a millionaire like Paladino, couldn’t afford to fund his own campaign and had to rely on contributions. He ended up easily winning.
Well-known Ohio car dealer Tom Ganley, a Republican, lost to incumbent Democratic U.S. Rep. Betty Sutton despite pouring $7 million of his own money into the campaign. And in Connecticut, Greenwich businessman Tom Foley appears to have lost his race for governor despite spending nearly $11 million of his own money.
While Foley has not conceded, the secretary of state’s office announced Wednesday that unofficial election results show Democrat Dan Malloy won by a little more than 3,000 votes.
Malloy used the state’s public campaign financing system and was expected to spend nearly all of the $8.5 million he received for the primary and general election.
Associated Press writers Juliet Williams in Los Angeles, Rik Stevens in New York City and Meghan Barr in Columbus, Ohio, contributed to this report. Haigh reported from Hartford, Conn.
Copyright © 2010 The Associated Press