LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 8: Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman delivers a campaign speech to supporters at her primary night party at the Universal Hilton Hotel June 8, 2010 in Los Angeles, California. Whitman, the former chief executive of eBay, won the Republican gubernatorial primary with a wide lead over her nearest competitor Steve Poizner. (Photo by Michal Czerwonka/Getty Images)
Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman has caught a lot of flack for her largely self-funded campaign. In round numbers, Whitman has now contributed $119 million of the $144 million in her campaign bank account. That eclipses the $109 million spent by Michael Bloomberg in his recent re-election for New York mayor. Moreover, if the past is any indication of the future, Whitman may add another $35-50 million in the final six weeks, bringing her total to well over $150 million.
You can do that when your estimated worth is $1.3 billion.
Opponents are grousing that Whitman is simply trying to buy the campaign by spending at will. Maybe, maybe not. But let's take a big step back for a moment to analyze the real outcomes from Whitman's controversial approach.
Whitman has a point when she says that her self-funded campaign leaves her independent of just about anyone else. Outside contributors know that their relatively insignificant donations aren't going to have much of an impact on someone willing to do it all, herself. Whitman is clearly beholden to no one.
She should also be given credit for doing what few of us ever do--Whitman wants the job and she's putting her money where her mouth is. To fault her for lack of commitment to her cause would be a cheap shot and nothing less.
So what's the problem here, if any? It's not that Whitman has self-funded her campaign. It's the crushing amount of the dollars she's spent that's troublesome. Whitman has dominated the airwaves and just about every other means of communication to the point that she has drowned out Democratic opponent Jerry Brown. There simply isn't any room for Brown's voice to be heard over the massive Whitman megaphone. It's a matter of proportionality.
The fact is, we know an awful lot about Whitman, or at least what she wants us to know, but we know little about Jerry Brown other than the way Whitman has defined him for us.
In the end, the issue is not whether Whitman is wrong to self-fund her campaign--more power to her. The real problem is the incredible imbalance between what Whitman is spending and what Brown can raise from traditional campaign contributors, including his labor allies.
Crushing the opposition may be a perfectly good tool in the world of business. Overwhelming the opposition in an election to the point that it can't be heard, however, has a different, more disconcerting ring.