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Tilting at Windmills

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February 7, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

FAT CAT CANDIDATES....Question: has a self-funded presidential candidate ever been successful? Mitt Romney? Nope. Steve Forbes? Nope. Ross Perot? Nope. Anyone? John Kerry loaned himself a few million dollars in 2003 and went on to win the Democratic nomination, but that's the closest I can think of.

On the other hand, self-funded candidates have certainly won other offices. Michael Bloomberg in the New York City mayor's race and Jon Corzine in the New Jersey governor's race, for example. And they spent a ton of money: about $73 million for Bloomberg and $60 million for Corzine. Romney, conversely, spent only about $18 million of his $250 million fortune.

So maybe the problem with presidential self-funders isn't that they're rich, but that they're too damn cheap. If Perot had spent, say, a billion dollars in 1992 instead of a paltry $60 million, could he have won? What if Romney had blown $100 million instead of $18 million? I guess we'll never know.

Kevin Drum 9:51 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (59)

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My guess is that someone who funds their own campaign instead of getting supporters to do so really doesn't have enough supporters. Hence, they lose. No amount of money would have put Perot over the top.

Posted by: CA Pol Junkie on February 7, 2008 at 9:53 PM | PERMALINK

You can't be calling clinton a "self funded candidate", right?

Posted by: doug on February 7, 2008 at 9:53 PM | PERMALINK

My guess, for Romney, is that in the back of his mind he has a dollar figure that other people should contribute for every dollar he puts in. When that did not occur he probably thought better of putting more of his own money in. Especially when he sees the money Barack Obama was getting.

Posted by: CarlP on February 7, 2008 at 10:03 PM | PERMALINK

Did Romney's campaign really lack for money? If he boosted up his spending, then he'd be buying more commercials, but how much would the last commercial get him in votes?

Posted by: stm177 on February 7, 2008 at 10:11 PM | PERMALINK

Didn't Kerry lend himself the money BEFORE Iowa?

Hillary kept it secret until after Super Tuesday.

I think that Hillary is in big trouble since she didn't win big on Tuesday.

Posted by: neil wilson on February 7, 2008 at 10:26 PM | PERMALINK

Trying to entice Paris Hilton into a run?

Posted by: Martin on February 7, 2008 at 10:32 PM | PERMALINK

But then they wouldn't be rich Kevin if they did that.

Kerry morgtaged his home to pay for his 2004 primary camapaign

Posted by: Sean Scallon on February 7, 2008 at 10:35 PM | PERMALINK

Until we go to publicly funded presidential campaigns that last no longer than 3 months, we are going to get blow-dried, empty-headed plutocrats like Willard the Mormon, who think they can buy their way into the presidency.

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on February 7, 2008 at 10:38 PM | PERMALINK

What TCD said.

Posted by: jerry on February 7, 2008 at 10:41 PM | PERMALINK

Did Bush 2 spend any of his money or did he just use Ken Lay’s money?

Posted by: MEG on February 7, 2008 at 10:42 PM | PERMALINK

I figure it would take about $50 to bribe me to vote for anyone, so it would cost about $3 billion dollars to bribe Bush's vote count of 62 million in the 2004 election, if I am representative. Of course you only need to swing enough votes to win the election.

A much better plan is the Democrats' voter breeding program. By supporting illegal migration and the jackpot baby program, Democrats are assured of a future crop of designer babies who vote 3:1 Democratic.

Posted by: Luther on February 7, 2008 at 10:42 PM | PERMALINK

Luther, I'm sure I'll regret asking this, but what is "the jackpot baby program" supposed to mean?

Posted by: JoshA on February 7, 2008 at 10:56 PM | PERMALINK

Josh, he's referring to Anchor Babies. See Michelle Malkin as an example.

Posted by: jerry on February 7, 2008 at 11:00 PM | PERMALINK

Luther just remembers half of some shit he thought sounded smart on some wingnut radio show or blog.

The children are so cute when they act like adults...

Posted by: elmo on February 7, 2008 at 11:04 PM | PERMALINK

MEG, IIRC, Bush raised a ton of money (like $50 million before the first primary) so he didn't need to spend his own.

Kevin, how about JFK?

Posted by: Mark S. on February 7, 2008 at 11:07 PM | PERMALINK

Wait, so Malkin is an Anchor Baby?

Figures...

Posted by: craigie on February 7, 2008 at 11:12 PM | PERMALINK

I have to say, I have always thought a candidate should be limited to the same donation level as everyone else. These self-financed campaigns are not tolerable, as they are essentially end-runs tto buy influence. It is essentially bribery and graft.

And how did Hillary become so wealthy that a $5,000,000 vanity loan to prop up her sagging numbers could be easily made to herself? That, my friends, is the anti-thesis of a Democrat. In all her supposed years of experience in public service, where did she find the time to enrich herself? What quasi-legal book-deal, or egregious
speaking tour netted her that much money?

The wealthy have pretty narrow interests, and it usually does not include their sharing more of their excess accumulation. They are all self-made, these health insurance mandate makers. How many hours of garnished minimum wages are in $5,000,000? Something approaching 85,000 I think.


Posted by: Sparko on February 7, 2008 at 11:13 PM | PERMALINK

Spending money on a campaign is subject to diminishing returns. Some exposure is needed to gain name recognition, and get your campaign points in front of voters eyes. But voters who are bombarded with too many adds for the same candidate might trun against him. So it is an adavantage, especially in the early phases of a campaign. Note McCain didn't have much money to spend in the primaries, but has now won them. The minor differences in funds available to HRC and BHO, are not likely to have much effect.

If a candidate is not appealing to voters, than more exposure to their message won't help them.

Posted by: bigTom on February 7, 2008 at 11:19 PM | PERMALINK

Hillary is not out of money, suckers...

Posted by: elmo on February 7, 2008 at 11:22 PM | PERMALINK

Elmo: no one suggested that Hillary cannot loan herself more money. The Health Lobby has deep pockets. And it is harder for you to declare bankruptcy on the money they invested in her campaign, just because you were lit on fire on You-Tube, and now find yourself with enormous ICU bills. Hillary's pockets run as deep as the largest HMO.

Posted by: Sparko on February 7, 2008 at 11:27 PM | PERMALINK

Question: has a self-funded presidential candidate ever been successful?

Yep. Ross Perot was successful in splitting the Republican vote enough to throw the election to Bill Clinton in 1992.

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on February 7, 2008 at 11:27 PM | PERMALINK

Romney hasn't put in $18 million, he's put in $35 million.

http://tpmelectioncentral.talkingpointsmemo.com/2008/02/romney_kicked_in_two_thirds_of.php

Posted by: Alex F on February 7, 2008 at 11:28 PM | PERMALINK

Yeah, imagine that. Malkin is an anchor baby:

http://www.spittleandink.com/isis/?p=338

If you want to have some wiki-fun, try mentioning it on her wiki page. It's best you do that from a coffee shop wifi you won't be back to, because it may end up banninated.

Posted by: jerry on February 7, 2008 at 11:31 PM | PERMALINK

Selection bias.

Here's a more interesting question: why is it that there are so many people around now with the money and desire to self-fund political campaigns? With the exception of the turn of the last century, we haven't had many people who are able to throw away a huge sum of money on a long shot, and a long shot that is a questionable investment even if you win. But the robber barons of old weren't interested in running for office themselves; they just bought the politicians. Our modern versions, on the other hand, clearly are interested: we've had at least one self funder in every election since 1992, and that's only counting the presidentials. What changed between then and now?

Posted by: MG on February 7, 2008 at 11:44 PM | PERMALINK

How many people have now signed the "Run, Mike Bloomberg, Run!" petition? Have they reached 5,000 yet? A mighty groundswell, that.

Posted by: lampwick on February 7, 2008 at 11:46 PM | PERMALINK


Sparko, she's just using the press against itself. But go ahead and be shocked when she's "financially secure" again...

Posted by: elmo on February 7, 2008 at 11:54 PM | PERMALINK

MG: an excellent question. I would posit that money alone no longer satisfies their craving for hyper media attention. They are apes with limitless fecal prowess.

Paris Hilton is the perfect post-modern robber-baron. The captains of industry have morphed into sideshow geeks willing to bite off chicken heads, or in Hilton's case, become chicken heads, for mass media attention. To be famous for being famously eccentric, appears to be the top-tier aspiration of these "candidates." You haven't made it till you are puked on by Lindsay Lohan on the cover of the Sun. One can always shape policy in rehab. And leave early.

Posted by: Sparko on February 8, 2008 at 12:01 AM | PERMALINK

Why is this such a recent phenomenon? The old robber barons had cash, but weren't interested in running for political office -- they just bought the people who did run. We've now had at least one self funder in every presidential election since 1992.

Posted by: MG on February 8, 2008 at 12:04 AM | PERMALINK

Considering that any well-invested huge mega-fortune is supposed to earn 20% on the capital each year, Romney's spending $18-$25 million on his quixotic quest will do pretty much nothing to slow the vast accumulation of his vast wealth. Alas.

He really belongs in the gutter--although most people in the gutter are his moral superiors by far.

Posted by: Anon on February 8, 2008 at 12:23 AM | PERMALINK

The sample set here is way too small to allow us to draw any conclusions.

Ross Perot, for example, finished with 19% of the popular vote despite having organized a candidacy and a third party, dropped out of the race with little warning, and then gotten back in. His money was not what was wrong with his campaign; his eccentric behavior was. Romney and Forbes, two business tycoons with no meaningful experience in national politics, aren't good examples either.

A much better one would have been Nelson Rockefeller, a man relatively far more wealthy than any of the three more recent self-funded candidates, but also a talented and experienced politician. One could make a case that Rockefeller, needing to ask no one for help financing his campaigns, lacked a reason to initiate many of the contacts with Republicans throughout the country that Richard Nixon made instead. Nixon established relationships, while Rockefeller sought approval for his ideas and personality -- so Nixon beat Rockefeller twice. But while Rockefeller's money might have tempted him to neglect a critical aspect of campaign politics, it didn't force him to make this error, and wouldn't force a future self-funding candidate to make it either.

Posted by: Zathras on February 8, 2008 at 12:30 AM | PERMALINK

I don't think it's a matter of the money they spend. It's a matter of where they spend it. Is it really any shock that Bloomberg and Corzine were able to be elected? Maybe if they had spent that much money being elected the mayor of some city in the South and the governor of Utah, we'd have a case, but not now.

Posted by: Brian on February 8, 2008 at 12:33 AM | PERMALINK

On NPR tonight, they estimated Romney's investment in his campaign at about $40 million.

Posted by: cedichou on February 8, 2008 at 12:52 AM | PERMALINK

Deep thought:

Bill Belichick is the new Dick Cheney.

Posted by: lampwick on February 8, 2008 at 1:04 AM | PERMALINK

The Freakonomics guys do an analysis of spending and conclude that it doesn't have as much effect as it is given credit for. If I remember correctly, the argument is that people who don't have much popular appeal can spend lots and lots of money without garnering many votes. Meanwhile, people with popular appeal collect not only funding but votes. It's of interest that as soon as the story of Hillary's $5M loan came out, the Obama supporters pointed out that they raised an equal amount for Obama overnight from Tuesday to Wednesday with a large amount coming from internet contributions.

In California, we have recent instances of zillionaires who spent $30 million apiece to run for Senate and for governor and lost. I suspect that once a candidate gets tagged with the label "self financed multi-millionaire industrialist," the voters turn off. It's like some wag suggested: would you rather support the guy who works alongside you or the guy who fired you?

Posted by: Bob G on February 8, 2008 at 1:38 AM | PERMALINK

All these comments and no one has mentioned Michael Huffington?1?1! Bah humbug Calpundit.

No sooner had the self-funded conservative Republican conceded defeat in the US Senate race, then he declared himself Teh Ghey and divorced Arianna. I have my "Man Seeking Virile Manly Massachusetts Governor with Bulletproof Hair" ad on craigslist already.

Posted by: anonymous on February 8, 2008 at 2:14 AM | PERMALINK

I don't get why Obama is raising money like gangbusters. He's just another empty suit issuing platitudes, the hard left doesn't even like him - calls him too squishy on the most important issues. So is it that he's black, Islamic and well spoken? Oh, and don't get me started on the Silicon Valley types that are ass-rimming this guy.

Posted by: FreedomLover on February 8, 2008 at 3:04 AM | PERMALINK

MG: Why is this such a recent phenomenon? The old robber barons had cash, but weren't interested in running for political office

Probably because before about 1970, when campaign contribution limits as well as mandatory contribution disclosure were introduced, candidates could count on huge contributions from corporations and the super-wealthy. This means that business interests (like banks) raised a lot of money for their chosen candidates, and there was no incentive for wealthy candidates to spend their own. A lot of US presidents came from very wealthy families, but didn't have to spend their own money. Now that campaign money must come from a large number of small donations, there is a greater incentive for wealthy individuals to run using their own money.

Some did self-finance though -- there is a story that Lincoln, although he didn't have the deepest pockets, almost went bankrupt spending his own money on his election.

Posted by: JS on February 8, 2008 at 6:00 AM | PERMALINK

Since the subject is money, I might as well point out that I've received two calls from the Obama campaign in the past two days, asking me to donate to his campaign. When I ask why I should donate, neither caller was prepared to answer -- apparently they aren't even given scripts, which is hardly a traditional way to run a fundraising campaign. Presumably, the innate and manifest wonderfulness of Obama is expected to be enough to get people to open up their wallets; no other reasons are necessary, it seems.

I'd sure like to know who in the DP gave his campaign my phone number. None of the candidates I've given money to in the past have endorsed him, so it didn't come from them.

Posted by: MG on February 8, 2008 at 7:16 AM | PERMALINK

Freedom Lover: "So is it that he's black, ISLAMIC and well spoken?"

Try paying attention to the facts when you comment.

Posted by: Neal on February 8, 2008 at 7:45 AM | PERMALINK

Yeah, imagine that. Malkin is an anchor baby

However, I notice no one refers to her as a jackpot baby. She's more like one of the zonks on "Let's Make a Deal."

Posted by: Philip the Equal Opportunity Cynic on February 8, 2008 at 8:36 AM | PERMALINK

Perhaps it wasn't the money, but the fact that people just didn't like or trust Romney.

Posted by: Cyn2 on February 8, 2008 at 8:40 AM | PERMALINK

And they spent a ton of money: about $73 million for Bloomberg and $60 million for Corzine.

I don't want to put a foot too deeply in defending this, but it's a good example of media mendacity/duplicity to see how people discuss these things: when you can only run because rich people (often those who got rich from running huge, business-aggressive corporations) give you money to run, people say you're in the pocket of the fat-cats. But when you have enough money to give yourself money to run (who hasn't thought "I'd make a great candidate, if only the system wasn't set up so guys like me can't get funding"?), people say there's something wrong with it if you paid for your own campaign. And that's even if people who wouldn't have got the chance to hear of you at all without the money, vote you into office once they have heard of you!

I'm not going to try to avoid at all the fact that probably all these self-funder earned their money by doing some kind of work for big corporations. Nor am I going to ignore all the times I've (rightly) complained about certain people winning over voters simply by virtue of having a big bullhorn to speak through.

I think what makes the difference, and what we've got to try not to confuse, is using the big bullhorn to spread lies (like Fox News does) or to try to achieve a media-message-monopoly (again, Rupert Murdoch, Clear Channel, Fox News, repeal of laws ending a person/corporations ability to own more than one big media outlet, such as a TV network and a newspaper in the same city, and so on). A media monopoly wouldn't even be as bad if it was the truth that big bullhorn was being used to spread, and if psychological manipulation or emotional appeals weren't relied on to win people's opinions over instead of the substance of the message.

I guess corporations aren't all bad, and that's what strikes at the heart of it. But everything I said in the last paragraph is a part of it and must be said, too. People are always going to be out there who are going to try to score a point on us when our capable people end up being partial self-funders, like Hillary (that is, they'll try to make us feel guilty for it, but it will be all but ignored when a Romney does it or when loads of Republican money comes from big individual donors to 527s). Let's not let them forget that with the Republicans' well-established habit of miring themselves in muck, a little elite funding from us is always a lot different than a lot of elite funding from them.

Posted by: Swan on February 8, 2008 at 9:47 AM | PERMALINK

I think what makes the difference, and what we've got to try not to confuse, is using the big bullhorn to spread lies (like Fox News does) or to try to achieve a media-message-monopoly

And let's not forget the hordes of conservative bloggers, conservatives newspapers, other conservative political websites, conservative pundits / columnists-- and, unfortunately, we've now got to include ostensibly moderate or uncommitted TV personalities on channels like CNN, MSNBC, and the three major television networks, too.

Posted by: Swan on February 8, 2008 at 9:52 AM | PERMALINK

I guess corporations aren't all bad, and that's what strikes at the heart of it. But everything I said in the last paragraph is a part of it and must be said, too.

In other words, when the words were pulled from your ass and written down, you had no idea what they meant.

This is just sickening to watch. Wank off in public somewhere else, son. Nothing you say makes sense.

So is it that he's black, Islamic and well spoken? Oh, and don't get me started on the Silicon Valley types that are ass-rimming this guy.

How eloquent. What good does it do the conservative movement to have useless dreck like this out there? Do you think you're helping?

Conservatives can beat Obama based on one simple fact--he's a liberal. We don't need to keep trying to claim that he's a Muslim. He's not. We don't need to insinuate that someone is doing him on the down low. They're not. Have you seen his wife? That alone should get the man into heaven.

So we have foul-mouthed wannabes and Swan today? Slim pickings. I should just deviate things and talk about my personal problems, for all the good it does to have comments like these out there.

Posted by: Norman Rogers on February 8, 2008 at 10:05 AM | PERMALINK

I'm not so worried about self funders like Perot and Romney, but with life-long civil servants like the Clintons it seems a conflict of interest to invest money gained through political action into a political campaign. The 5 million she "lent" her campaign was obviously not made from a Senator's salary or even a President's salary. I know Bill gets tons for personal speaking engagements and he's a shrewd overseas investor (to put it politely) but in my mind the ethics of using that money to fund a campaign is dangerously close to unethical.

Wonder what McCain and Feingold think of it? Wouldn't it be ironic if in November it was the Republican side of the ticket that could take the "high ground" on campaign finances. Jeez.

Posted by: Da5id on February 8, 2008 at 10:09 AM | PERMALINK

I'm sure someone already said this, but just in case anyone tries to argue Perot tipped the 1992 election, it has been shown he took roughly equal votes from Clinton and Bush. So even though you may claim he stole Bush's election, you'd be wrong.

The last successful self-funded campaign was, I believe, JFK.

Posted by: Andy on February 8, 2008 at 10:13 AM | PERMALINK

Good point about Perot, Andy. I remember the buzz on the network news back then that Perot had siphoned Bush votes, but then in the days afterward there were articles on Page 3 of every paper that refuted that with exit polling data.

Also, isn't JFK the last President to not take a salary? Has anyone else done that?

Posted by: Da5id on February 8, 2008 at 10:35 AM | PERMALINK

Why is this such a recent phenomenon? The old robber barons had cash, but weren't interested in running for political office

It's directly rooted in the Supreme Court decision in Buckley v. Valeo (1976).

The case involved a challenge to the post-Watergate campaign finance reforms. Most people focus on how the conservative bloc on the court ruled that political ads were free speech and couldn't be stifled by Congress, and that PACs would now have a greater leeway in spending on campaigns.

But the details of the decision were such that it upheld the restrictions on the amount that individual donors could give to a campaign, but said a candidate could spend as much of their own money as they wanted to. As a result, self-financing candidates got a huge leg-up, and we now live in a world where you have to be rich to win a major election.

Posted by: TR on February 8, 2008 at 10:36 AM | PERMALINK

Not a single Inkblot reference?

Are you okay, Optical?

Posted by: thersites on February 8, 2008 at 10:48 AM | PERMALINK

don't get me started on the Silicon Valley types that are ass-rimming this guy.

sit down, let's discuss your hostility to the vagina

Posted by: herr doktor freud on February 8, 2008 at 10:58 AM | PERMALINK

Does anyone really believe that Mitt or any of the other so-called 'self-financed' candidates are really the robber barons? No way.

The robber barons of today remain hidden but still buy politicians. Because of the 1976 ruling they may not simply pay for the politician's campaign, they must make sure the politician "earns" the money beforehand so that it looks like the politician is spending his/her own money.

The robber barons have learned to stay hidden and they've also learned to back both sides of the election. If I could go to Vegas and play roulette and bet ten bucks on black, ten on red, and ten on green and win a thousand dollars I'd do it every time.

Posted by: Tripp on February 8, 2008 at 11:01 AM | PERMALINK

We have the very worst politicians (I can't use the word "leaders" without being snotty) money can buy.

Posted by: Angela on February 8, 2008 at 11:03 AM | PERMALINK

I believe Jimmy Carter also refused the salary. Or I could be confusing that with taxpayer-funded post-Presidential Secret Service detail. I believe he either refused their protection or paid for it himself.

Posted by: Angela on February 8, 2008 at 11:05 AM | PERMALINK

If the media does their job right and gives every capable and credible candidate enough attention and access to present and debate views etc., then having lots of money wouldn't help win anyway. It shouldn't be able to in a true democratic society.

Posted by: Neil B. on February 8, 2008 at 11:19 AM | PERMALINK

Neil B.,

Right on Brother!

If I won the powerball lottery I'd be outta here early today too!

Posted by: Tripp on February 8, 2008 at 11:49 AM | PERMALINK

Sparko,

I think Hillary's made quite a bit from her book deals. That's fair game for criticism, of course, but not necessarily corrupt or quasi-legal. And some of her books actually sold, if I remember correctly.

Posted by: thersites on February 8, 2008 at 12:04 PM | PERMALINK

Perot might have won if he could have controlled his own bizarre behavior (like temporarily quitting the race because the Republicans were supposedly plotting to disrupt his daughter's wedding).

Posted by: Joe Buck on February 8, 2008 at 12:22 PM | PERMALINK

Jay Rockefeller stayed in West Virginia Governor's mansion and entered the Senate thanks to two largely self-funded campaigns.

He invested over $12 million of his own money both in 1980 (Gov. re-election) and in 1984 (his first Senate election). Those are huge sums by W.Va. campaign standards.

Posted by: Clem G. on February 8, 2008 at 12:48 PM | PERMALINK

I sure hope that Bloomberg doesn't see this post.

Posted by: Brian on February 8, 2008 at 4:33 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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