Tales from the Trail

Big campaign bucks don’t always spell victory

September 1, 2011

Expectations for massive fund-raising in the 2012 election may obscure one point — big bucks don’t always lead to victory. And in fact, too much spending — especially in the form of too many advertisements — can turn off voters.

There have been several notable examples of heavy, but ultimately fruitless, outspending in recent elections.

In the 2010 midterms, Republican Meg Whitman, the billionaire former chief executive of eBay, spent $140 million of her own money, or about $43 per vote,to campaign for governor against Democrat Jerry Brown.  Brown spent $7.50 per vote to defeat her by 12 percentage points, in a race that was a rare bright spot for Democrats in elections that saw most Republicans sweep to victory.

Another Republican, wrestling executive Linda McMahon, also spent lots of her own money last year — lending her campaign about $50 million — or about $100 per vote — in losing by 12 percentage points to her Democratic rival Richard Blumenthal.

But big spenders don’t always lose. Jon Corzine, a liberal Democrat who made a fortune as a Wall Street executive, spent $60 million of his own money as he won his U.S. Senate race in 2000, his first run for public office.   That race broke the previous record, set by Republican Michael Huffington as he lost his bid for a U.S. Senate seat in California in 1994.

Michael Malbin, executive director of Washington’s Campaign Finance Institute, said Huffington’s race was infamous because his poll numbers dropped as his spending on advertisements increased.   “There are plenty of examples of people who spend way more and lose,” Malbin said. “… In the end, the voters will decide which message they like.”

Despite their reputation as the wealthier party, it is by no means always Republicans who spend more money in losing campaigns.

In 2002, the Republican candidate in the Texas governor’s race was heavily outspent by his Democratic opponent, Tony Sanchez, but won the race anyway.  That Republican candidate has since won a reputation as a formidable fundraiser himself, which will come in handy in his current endeavor.

That candidate? The current early frontrunner in the race for the Republican 2012 presidential nomination: Rick Perry.

PHOTO Credit: REUTERS/Pascal Lauener (money counter counts 100 U.S dollar banknotes in a bank in Bern)

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