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Thursday, November 4, 2010

Meg Whitman - Gold in the Golden State


Now let me make sure I have this right. Tuesday's elections were considered a big win for Republicans across the nation. Right? Meg Whitman, a Republican, ran for governor of California and spent what amounted to $46 a vote on her campaign, but she lost the election to Jerry Brown who had been governor last in 1978. Right?  It's getting pretty bad when you can't even buy an election

Meg Whitman arrived at eBay in 1998 after a series of big jobs at more traditional corporations, where she managed brands that ranged from Stride Rite shoes to FTD flowers to Mr. Potato Head. At first she was not even interested in the online auction business, but when she saw its numbers - 30 percent growth per month, and gross margins of 85 percent - she realized the potential. (Karen Tumulty, "Meg Whitman's $139 Million Could Turn Governor's Vote," The Washington Post, October 18 2010)

Over 10 years Whitman guided eBay to became an $8 billion behemoth with 15,000 employees and 300 million registered users, where landed her eighth on Harvard Business Review's list of best-performing CEOs of the decade.

"She imposed a lot of order and structure, and made it a grown-up organization in a way it hadn't been before," said Adam Cohen, author of The Perfect Store, a history of eBay. "Her business style was one of real attention to detail, and real concern for infrastructure." (Karen Tumulty, "Meg Whitman's $139 Million Could Turn Governor's Vote," The Washington Post, October 18 2010)

In 2010, Whitman decided to run for Governor of California. She had been endorsed by big names such as Mitt Romney, John McCain, and even Condoleezza Rice. Her candidacy surprised many, especially since after reviewing her voting records in California, The Sacramento Bee reported that Whitman did not vote for a period of 28 years. Whitman, herself, said her voting record was "atrocious" and apologized for it. (Andrew McIntosh, "Meg Whitman's Voting Record Short, Sparse," The Sacramento Bee, September 24 2009)

Nonetheless, Whitman began a rigorous campaign for governor. She flooded the airwaves. Late in the campaign she ran more than 1,300 television spots a day, according to the Campaign Media Analysis Group, which tracks advertising. In addition she set up almost 90 campaign offices, not only for GOP strongholds but also in traditionally Democratic-controlled areas. Whitman had multilingual phone banks that reached households that spoke Russian, Farsi, and Korean as well as ads in Spanish on  billboards. She even ran TV spots in Mandarin and Cantonese. 

Karen Tumulty of The Washington Post wrote the following about Whitman:

"Using state-of-the-art microtargeting software, her campaign trawls mountains of publicly and commercially available data, searching for prospective supporters by their voting histories, their incomes and ethnicity, the cars they drive, the magazines they read, the catalogues they shop from, even the groceries they buy.

"When Californians open their mailboxes to find another piece of Whitman literature, it is likely to be one that zeroes in on a specific issue they care about. A college-educated independent in his 20s might receive a brochure designed to look like an iPad that features information about Whitman's record as a Silicon Valley superstar; a construction worker in his 30s who votes sporadically may get one that focuses on her promise to create more highway construction jobs." (Karen Tumulty, "Meg Whitman's $39 Million Could Turn Calif Governor's Vote," The Washington Post, October 18 2010)

Her message had been focused on jobs, elementary and high school education, and cutting government spending. Whitman and Jerry Brown had traded leads in polls. Everyone looked for a very close race.

Whitman certainly tried but her message was not good enough against Brown, who captured nearly 54% of the voted despite a tight budget and a lean staff. Brown had previously been California's governor from 1975 to 1983. "It looks like I'm going back again," Brown said. "As you know, I've got the know-how and the experience." At 72 years old, Brown is now both the youngest and the oldest person to be elected governor in the state's modern history. (Philip Caulfield, "Meg Whitman Loses California Governor Race Despite $160 million Tab; Jerry Brown Wins for  3rd Time," The New York Daily News, November 3 2010)

By comparison, Brown, the current state attorney general, spent $25 million, or $6.25 per vote, and won the election by almost a million ballots. Whitman now ranks as the biggest self-funded candidate ever for a single campaign, having contributed $139 million - $141.5 million of her own money to the effort. That figure topped the previous record of $109 million spent by Michael Bloomberg in his run for New York City mayor in 2009. But, Bloomberg won the election. (Steve Gorman, "Ex-eBay Chief Loses Calif Election Despite High Bid," Reuters, November 3 2010)

Political Money

A Gallup poll found that Americans are in favor of treating money given to political candidates as free speech. 

More specifically, 61% of Americans think the government should be able to limit the amount of money individuals can contribute to candidates and 76% think it should be able to limit the amount corporations or unions can give. The following summarizes the findings:
"Americans' broad views about corporate spending in elections are generally in accord with the Supreme Court's decision that abolished some decades-old restrictions on corporate political activity. Fifty-seven percent of Americans consider campaign donations to be a protected form of free speech, and 55% say corporate and union donations should be treated the same way under the law as donations from individuals are. At the same time, the majority think it is more important to limit campaign donations than to protect this free-speech right."  (Lydia Saad, "Public Agrees With Court: Campaign Money Is 'Free Speech,'" Gallup Inc., January 22 2010)

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