2012 self funding and the state of Florida

More on self funding in 2012


Rick Scott

Self financing, once again, has not lighted up on the big board as one of the top political stories in 2012, and not merely because it is overshadowed by Mitt Romney’s refusal to disclose his tax returns. While there are some expensively self-financed mayor’s races, including in California–where, incidentally, more cities may soon declare bankruptcy than in any other state–the self-financing bug has simply not bitten in most big races.


Meg Whitman

Of the eleven governor’s races in 2012, only one involves major self financing. The gubernatorial primary in Missouri takes place Aug. 7, and so far, it looks as though the self-funding effort by David (Dave) Spence (R) is paying off. Spence has contributed more than $2 million to his gubernatorial effort and is competing for the GOP nomination against two candidates whose combined financial support does not equal his. The nominee will challenge incumbent Gov. Jay Nixon (D). Nobody claims that the copious self financing will make Spence a shoo-in for governor if he becomes the nominee. Spence was not projected to be the strongest potential nominee to begin with, and has gotten into trouble by  seeming to over-enhance his academic credentials in his resume. Calling a degree in Home Ec an economics degree may not be a crime but does have potential for generating effective television ads, and humor, about his candidacy.


Dave Spence, Missouri

Self financing in governor’s races in 2012 is dwarfed, of course, by the gargantuan tries for governor in 2010. Spence’s effort in Missouri comes to (so far) about one sixty-fourth the total contributed by Meg Whitman to her unsuccessful run against Jerry Brown in California. It comes to about one thirty-second the self financing by Rick Scott (R) in Florida, who won, contravening the predictions.

For further perspective, Spence’s self funding comes to about one eighteenth the amount donated to herself by Linda McMahon (R) in her unsuccessful senate race against Richard Blumenthal (D) in Connecticut.

Linda McMahon is back in the self-funding news again, running again for senator from Connecticut in 2012. Again, she is one of the top self funders according to the Center for Responsive Politics. It remains to be seen whether the self financing contributes more to a win, or to fuel more misogyny in politics.

A more noteworthy item is that the state of Florida is back in the self funding picture again in 2012. It’s not like Rick Scott’s run in 2010, not being written up much nationally, but Florida’s lengthy redistricting process, now theoretically complete, held up normal fundraising efforts for months. That doesn’t mean the money hasn’t come in. It just means that candidate money has been at least as important as usual in Florida, especially in the Florida state senate. Candidate self-financing looks to have kept some state senate campaigns going.

Another melancholy reflection of the use of redistricting delaying tactics, for the state GOP. I’ve seen the same thing in my home state of Texas. First the state party apparatus pushes through a redistricting plan that any attorney can see will not pass constitutional muster. (In Florida, by the way, the GOP is not the majority party by voter registration. It has a lock on the state government acquired through tactics, not through the ballot.) Then the state government, acting as a tool of the party apparatus, stonewalls, foot-drags and otherwise obstructs correction. Generally it pours more citizen money down the drain arguing the losing proposition in court. Then, once the courts have had their say and the state is mandated by law to fix the redistricting at least somewhat, it does exactly the minimum necessary to enable it to hold an election in November. Typically it blames the delay on the opposition–especially if the Dems file suit–and on ‘activist judges’ if not on judicial ‘tyranny’. (Money pays for the ad campaigns, remember.) Meanwhile, issuing ballots–including ballots mailed to overseas voters and to voters in the military–has been held up. The process determining placement of candidates’ names on the ballot has also been held up. And, of course, as long as the district lines are in flux/jeopardy, candidates’ ability to campaign effectively, or to raise funds, has also been held up.

This process of obstruction has disproportionate effect on money-strapped candidates or on comparatively disadvantaged candidates. Campaign fundraising is necessary for almost all people running for office. It is already dicier for challengers, for the minority party in the state legislature, for lesser known candidates and for candidates from poorer neighborhoods. Factor in undefined district boundaries, and it becomes more difficult.

A predominant note sounded after the 2010 elections was that, where candidate self funding is concerned, money cannot buy elections. True as far as it goes–see above, and the previous post–but money can, and does, have disproportionate impact gumming up the works for everyone else. It is at least as effective in buying the influence, behind the scenes, that obtains squirrelly redistricting proposals as in its more public form of campaign finance–where ironically it can call attention to a candidate’s shortcomings, or negatives, by highlighting them in the white-hot glare of big-bucks publicity.

Update August 10:

Sure enough, self funder Dave Spence won the Aug. 7 GOP gubernatorial primary in Missouri. Neither purely establishment GOPer nor pure tea-party outsider, Spence’s victory is something of an exception to the over-all pattern for self-financed candidates.

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