I wouldn’t gamble more money than I could afford to lose. I also wouldn’t spend my own money in order to win an election, but I’m not, and nor will I ever care to be, a politician. Even those living outside of California have heard, the former CEO of eBay, Meg Whitman, spent more than $160 million of her own money, more than 10% of her reported net worth, to ultimately lose the election for governor of that state.
Had she won the election, her investment might not have been a waste from at least one political point of view. Avoiding the obvious political debates played out ad nauseam elsewhere, would you gamble 10% of your net worth? A complete loss might be an acceptable risk if you believe you have a good chance to be on the winning side of the investment.
People who want to be politicians should be driven by the possibility of making a positive difference in the world — or country, state, or town. Two of Whitman’s goals were to create jobs and improve public schools. With $160 million to spend, someone could take great strides with both of these goals by investing in businesses and supporting the secondary education system directly. It’s easy to argue that Whitman hoped that by spending the money to win the election, she’d be in a better position to have a greater effect than she could with just her own money.
It’s interesting to note that the most expensive self-financed race in history didn’t win — an example that defies the general rule that the political victor is the opponent who spends the most money.
Updated October 12, 2016 and originally published November 3, 2010.