Meg Whitman spent nearly $150 million.  Of her own money.  And she lost.

Linda McMahon spent nearly $50 million of her own money.  She lost, too.

Carly Fiorina spent $5.5 million of her own money.  You know what happened.

Yet everyone from politicians to angry bloggers insist that [evil corporations; foreign governments; nefarious union bosses–insert the interest group that most disgusts you here] buy and thereby effectively steal elections from innocent and pure voters that are too stupid to see through the lies the money buys.  It just ain’t so. 

All the money in the world can’t buy the love of voters.  All it can do is make a run for office accessible.  Without at least a bit of money, either your own or donated, getting the message and your candidacy some publicity is very difficult.  But just because you have the resources to get your message and candidacy some publicity doesn’t mean you’ll win.  Even paying voters directly for their votes couldn’t ensure victory, so long as we keep a secret ballot system of voting.  Money can’t vote.  Only people do.

The idea that money can’t buy political love is not confined to just female candidates.    Billionaire real estate investor Jeff Green spent a quarter million of his own dough to lose in Florida’s Democratic Primary for Senate, a seat that Republican Marc Rubio eventually won, and that Green’s foe, Kendrick Meek only managed to poll about 20%.  A quarter million dollars ain’t much to a billionaire, but really, losing to a guy who ultimately can’t do better than 20% as the Democratic nominee in Florida?  Incredible.

Don’t forget nutty Ross Perot’s third-party presidential campaigns.  He spent hundreds of millions of his own money with nothing to show except spoiling the election prospects of his former party. 

Politicians always complain about money, but only when it is being provided to the other side.  Obama bemoaned campaign funds being provided to Republicans by the US Chamber of Commerce, insinuating that the Chamber was illegally funneling foreign money to US candidates.  Fox New’s Corporation’s Wall Street Journal ran a front-page story showing that the AFSCME, a public-sector labor union, had spent more on the campaign than any others, including the US Chamber of Commerce. 

The bottom line?  Money is way overrated.  Ideas and candidates matter much more, and always will, so long as we vote by secret ballot.  Secret ballot elections are one of the few things about American democracy that mostly work, even accounting for irregularities in vote counting (Kennedy’s victory over Nixon) and absentee ballots (Bush’s victory over Gore). 

So the next time you hear a politician wailing about the corrupting influence of money in the election cycle, you can be sure that what he’s really complaining of is that he’s not getting enough of it.  And the likely reason he isn’t getting as much money as he’d like is that the voters either don’t like him or his message, or both.

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