Why Money Can’t Buy you Live, or Votes

ST. LOUIS • What can you get for $6.6 million these days?
Not the Missouri governor’s office, as it turns out.

That’s how much Republican gubernatorial nominee Dave Spence spent from his personal fortune in his failed attempt to topple Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon in Tuesday’s election. For his trouble, Spence lost by a 12-point margin. His final personal tab: More than $5 per vote.

Spence’s expensive loss came on the heels of businessman John Brunner’s even more expensive one in Missouri’s August GOP primary for the U.S. Senate. After spending some $8 million of own money, Brunner — a political novice, like Spence — finished second to underfinanced Republican U.S. Rep. Todd Akin. Akin went on to lose the general election by almost 16 points to Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill Tuesday.

It’s been said that money is the lifeblood of politics, and McCaskill’s 4-to-1 campaign funding advantage over Akin certainly was a key factor in her victory last week.

But the fates of Spence, Brunner, and other inexperienced but wealthy candidates around the country once again show the limits of the almighty dollar against the multifaceted demands of politics. “People who are successful in life are the best people to have in office … because of their skill sets,” said Jeff Roe, a Kansas City-based Republican political consultant.

But as candidates, they often run into problems, Roe said, most of them self-inflicted. “They have to learn that their instincts aren’t always correct.”


Brunner went into the summer primaries expecting to spend millions of his own money, and did, only to find it wasn’t enough to overcome Akin’s years of local connection-building among rural conservatives who can sway a GOP primary.
“There is a real advantage to having been around and having met people who make local politics work,” said Republican political consultant John Hancock, who was a Brunner adviser. “This is a kind of political capital that is in some respects as important as money.”

Spence didn’t expect to spend what he did, but ended up doing it to “finish what I started” when outside money dried up — a development he blames on media distracted by Akin’s controversial Senate run.

“I did what I had to do,” Spence said of his personal spending. “I didn’t like it. It didn’t feel good.”

They join a perennial club in American politics: self-funding newbie politicians who hope their money will allow them to bypass the lower rungs of the political ladder and go right to the upper levels.

Sometimes it works. There’s a reason more than half the members of the U.S. Senate are millionaires.

When self-funded candidates with no political experience lose, said Roe, it’s often because of “how they are used to administering their businesses, and how that translates into a campaign.”
For a serious high-level campaign, they have to trade in the trusted partners and employees from their business lives for “those who practice the dark arts” — political consultants. And then, just as difficult, they have to listen to them.

Roe said successful businessmen can have a difficult time doing that, in part because of the big personalities common among entrepreneurs.

“They’re very competitive people. It takes a certain amount of self-confidence to do this,” said Roe. So once the inevitable frustration with the consultants sets in, “they sometimes they think, ‘I know how to do this better, anyway.’”

They often don’t.

“They want to see results. ‘How many (voting percentage) points can I get for how much money?’ It doesn’t work that way, but they think it does because that’s their experience,” said Roe. “I literally had a guy say once, ‘I want to spend how much it costs to win 51 percent. I don’t want to fund a landslide.’ It doesn’t work that way.”

Hancock said Brunner was never that naive about the magic that his money could work, and that he was a quick study in the new world of politics.

“He really took to it well,” said Hancock. “I know he thoroughly enjoyed the process of running for office. Not everyone does.”

Brunner couldn’t be reached for comment.

More: http://www.stltoday.com/news/local/govt-and-politics/political-fix/checkbook-politics-didn-t-work-out-for-top-tier-missouri/article_5291c216-5ece-51e7-9211-807ea539cc0d.html

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