On Meg Whitman and the Perils of Financing Your Own Campaign

by John Sides on October 4, 2010 · 4 comments

in Campaigns and elections,Political science

Adam Nagourney writes:

But Ms. Whitman is the latest wealthy Californian to learn that it may take more than money to win an election here, particularly for a first-time candidate confronting a vast and convoluted electoral landscape.

He is right, and not just because wealthy people sometimes hire illegal immigrants.

When wealthy candidates finance their campaigns, news coverage and commentary often portray this as suggesting strength. After all, a jillion million dollars is a jillion million dollars, no matter where it comes from, right?

Not really. First, it is important to remember that many candidates spend their own money because they are forced to, not because they necessarily want to. That is, they invest their money because they are facing strong opposition and could easily be defeated, or because they are languishing in the polls and desperately need to give their campaign a jolt, or because they are uncertain about their ability to raise money. Self-financing may be as much a sign of weakness as as sign of strength.

Second, dollars raised from other donors appear to produce more votes than dollars provided by the candidate. This may reflect the additional benefits of cultivating a network of supportive donors. Private donations signal the strength of the candidate to the media and political elites. It will surprise no one that a candidate would give his campaign $3 million; after all, it is his money, and he wants to win. But if 3,000 people give the candidate $1,000 each, that may convince others that he is a serious contender. Moreover, the act of fundraising may generate local media coverage of fundraising events and may strengthen a candidate’s ties to crucial interest groups and blocs of voters.

All of the above is poached from Jennifer Steen’s excellent book, Self-Financed Candidates in Congressional Elections, although she is not responsible for my interpretation. The book really should be required reading for anyone watching or covering self-financed campaigns like Whitman’s.

{ 4 comments }

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: