Bill Whalen: Politi-Cal

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Whitman and a Wealth of Wealth Coverage

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California’s political media are abuzz today with accounts of Meg Whitman’s mega-spending — specifically, that the fabulously wealthy former eBay chair has spent $27 million over the past 11 weeks in her quest to be the next governor of the Golden State.

Over at his Capitol Notes blog, KQED’s Sacramento bureau chief John Myers does  nifty job deconstructing the dollars and sense of it all:  for every dollar Jerry Brown’s spent this year (in an uncontested primary), Whitman has spent $186 (the ratio is more like $129 to $1, if you count from the time Brown formally entered the race).

Meg Whitman

Here’s another way to look at it. Considering that this is spending reported only for the first 76 days of 2010 (Jan. 1-March 17), Team Whitman has burned through a little shy of $360,000 a day.

Yikes. 

Reporters, of course, will have a field day with this. As will Whitman’s opponents, who are determined to make her wealth and self-financing a political negative.

And that raises two questions:

(1) is it possible for Whitman to run a campaign in which her spending is not part of the conversation?

(2) will the media ever get past her wealth, or is it already part of her public brand?

Keep in mind: it’s not as if the media have to make money the focus.

Just look at the last big election.

Two years ago, Barack Obama swept into the presidency, aided in no small part by a fawning media smitten by the whole concept of hope-and-change. Yet, at the same time, the Obama campaign was collecting and spending money at a dizzying clip — even for a high-stakes, 50-state effort.

How much, you ask?

Team Obama raised about $745 million (including $104 million in the five weeks coming down the home stretch).

Team Obama spent about $715 million. That’s far more than the dollars dropped by George W. Bush and John Kerry combined in 2004 ($653 million).

In the final month of the 2008 election, Obama outspent John McCain by roughly a 4-1 ratio — allowing Obama to play and win in normally (for presidential elections) Democratic-unfriendly states like Indiana, Nevada and North Carolina.

Before you say: wait a minute, Obama wasn’t a billionaire. His story was  all about small donors leading an Internet uprising . . .

Only one-fourth of Obama’s money came from folks giving $200 or less. Nearly half came from people giving $1,000 or more.

I mention this neither to defend Meg Whitman or to disparage Barack Obama’s tactics. If both are guilty of any offense, it’s doing what it takes (from their perspective, at least) to win an election.

But it is worth noting that there was scant discussion of Obama “buying” his way to victory in 2008. And that’s because reporters chose to look past the spending aspect of his campaign and focus instead on other variables, such as cult of personality (just as, in California, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s persona has long generated more media attention that her personal wealth). 

Think there’s any chance of Meg Whitman getting the same break as Obama — or are wealthy candidates held to a different standard?

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Written by Bill Whalen

March 23, 2010 at 7:07 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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