Sunday, October 24, 2010

Midterm burn rate 2010

Back in the day of the 2008 presidential campaign, when the field (or was it the herd?) of Republican candidates was starting to thin, much was rightly made of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and his attempt to hurl enough of his considerable fortune at the wall of the electorate, the better to secure the nomination as the GOP standard-bearer. When Romney finally packed it in, in February 2008, he had spent (conservatively) about $40 million of his own coin to lock down the votes of 157 delegates — a burn rate of cash that amounted to $254,777 per delegate in a losing effort.

Fast forward to 2010. We can thank The Huffington Post for showing us, in a comprehensive way, just how much of a piker Mitt Romney was when it comes to self-financing a campaign. Earlier this week in a tidy little slideshow, HuffPost surveyed the prospects of success for some of the midterm campaign’s more profligate torchers of cash. We don’t know what the election results will be; that’s conjecture until Nov. 2. But for some candidates thought to be on the bubble — especially as the Democrats have surged in recent weeks — Election Day may bring the poorest returns on investment in the history of midterm American politics.

Some of the notables:

Meg Whitman: The former eBay chieftain and current contender for the California governor’s chair has so far spent more than $140 million — $40 million in the last three months — to pursue a campaign that analysts are saying is likely to end in defeat. Whitman has been trailing former California Gov. Jerry Brown in recent polls, by a little or a lot. But the $140+ million price tag suggests she’ll stop at nothing to win the office of governor — a job that pays about $212,000 a year, the kind of chump change Whitman’s likely to find in the couch cushions at home.

Many Californians, wherever they are with or against Whitman on the issues, have a real deep and abiding problem with what seems to be a tweak on an eBay transaction, and Whitman trying to be the highest bidder. ThankGodhesgone, commenting at HuffPost, is confused: “I'm trying to digest that someone would spend $140 million of their own money to win an election, especially since for 40+ years, she was so disinterested in politics that she didn't even register to vote. Can't be the salary. So why does Meg want the job so badly?”

Carl Paladino: Oh Paladino, Paladino, where do you roam? The millionaire whackjob from Buffalo, N.Y. reportedly injected $10 million of his own money into his New York gubernatorial bid against state attorney general Andrew Cuomo. In September, Celeste Katz of the New York Daily News reported Paladino’s cash flow was down as of his 11-day pre-primary campaign filing.

According to Katz, “Paladino started the period with $150,000 on hand. He took in about $113,000 in contributions, including $22,675 from corporations, and loaned himself $220,000 for a total of $333,624.47 cash in and $484,379.31 cash out, leaving him with the red ink.”

Paladino’s almost certainly dipped into his own till since then. But when this is over, and given his appetite for embarrassing bluster, cheap political theatrics and X-rated e-mail, and Cuomo’s comfortable lead in the governor’s race, Mad Carl will have moved his own mountains of Benjamin Franklins into the furnace with a wheelbarrow, with precious little to show for it.

Linda McMahon: The former CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment promised to spend $50 million on her senatorial campaign against Connecticut attorney General Richard Blumenthal. Her insurgent bid for Chris Dodd’s soon-to-be-vacant seat has released campaign ads with all the slickness and craft of something with $50 million behind it. She’s made some solid points about Blumenthal’s character evidenced by fabrications in his Vietnam-era biography. But to go by recent polls, McMahon may well be emptying her wallet into the shredder too.

A recent Quinnipiac University statewide poll had Blumenthal widening his lead over McMahon, “as some suggest the barrage of advertising unleashed by Republican Linda McMahon may have annoyed potential voters as much as persuaded them,” The Connecticut Post reported Oct. 14.

The poll shows Blumenthal leading McMahon by 54 percent to 43 percent. That’s an increase from a Sept. 28 Quinnipiac survey, when Blumenthal’s bulge was just 3 percentage points, the Post reported.

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If this sorry little triad goes down as expected, it’ll be easy for most Americans punching a clock (or those who wish they were) to summon some hearty schadenfreude at their expense, and a good laugh at the folly of the super-rich mounting quixotic political campaigns they probably won't win, seeking jobs they may not really even want.

More worrying is the increase in money coming into Republican coffers from a vast array of anonymous sources, a direct result of the Supreme Court’s 5-4 Citizens United v. FEC decision in January, equalizing campaign donations from individuals and those from corporations.

It’s been widely condemned as clearing the way for deep-pocketed companies and entrenched lobbyists to spend whatever it takes to buy an American election, and as such it’s a deeply fearsome thing. But like with the candidates spending out of their own wallets, the velociraptors on the right don’t care. They’ve have pulled out the stops on what they’ll spend, or what they’ll try to raise, in order to defeat the Democratic agenda.

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Reporter Ken Vogel of Politico, who’s monitored the donations flowing to American Crossroads, a so-called 527 nonprofit conservative advocacy group advised by Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie, a former Republican National Committee chairman. Vogel told NPR’s “Fresh Air” on Oct. 7 that 75 percent of the cost of a $4.2 million advertising buy announced that week by American Crossroads was paid for by undisclosed donors.

On the same program, Lee Fang of ThinkProgress spoke about the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and its ability to raise more than $75 million and pay for ads that have run more than 8,000 times on behalf of Republican Senate candidates, despite the chamber’s formal status as a nonprofit trade organization.

Other groups endorsing the Republican message and supported by anonymous donors include the American Future Fund and Crossroads GPS, another Rovian venture. These conservative orgs and others have been making aggressive use of that money. According to The Washington Post, they “have swamped their Democratic-aligned competition by 7 to 1 in recent weeks.”

“If we are to think of these groups as a shadow RNC or a shadow party infrastructure, Karl Rove would be the chairman of this infrastructure,” Vogel told NPR’s Terry Gross. “There's no doubt that he's very much involved … in really shaping the strategy of these new groups, coordinating between these new groups and raising money for these new groups. And if Republicans are successful in the 2010 midterms — if they capture the House [or] the Senate — a lot of credit will go to Karl Rove and some of these groups that he helped form and orchestrate.”

And when this kind of ad buying increases, as it’s certain to between now and the 2012 general election, it’ll dwarf Meg Whitman’s $140 mil by orders of magnitude. That’s a burn rate we should be concerned about right now.

Image credits: Whitman: Meg 2010 Web site. Paladino: via The Huffington Post. McMahon: Linda 2010. Rove: Chris Usher/CBS.

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