Ah, politics — the place where America gives its best second chances (or third if you’re Dino Rossi). Case in point: Rick Scott, the Republican nominee for governor in Florida. Voters apparently liked the idea that he would bring his awesome business acumen to the job of running Florida — at least, that was the message he plastered all over television with the $40 million of his own money spent in the primary there.
The ads didn’t mention that he got fired from his job back in the late 1990s — his employer (Columbia/HCA, a for-profit health care provider in Florida) was under investigation for massive Medicare fraud, which wound up costing Columbia/HCA $1.7 billion in fines. When pressed, Scott has said he never knew anything about it — after all, he was only the CEO.
The point is money can create a new reality — an alleged crook can become a business guru with the right ads and a giant bank account.
And it’s only getting worse, as the Associated Press reported this week that 2010’s will be the most expensive election cycle in history — beating ’08 (when Barack Obama raised insane amounts of money), which beat 2006, which beat ’04 … You get the idea.
So far, $1.2 billion has been raised for House and Senate races; the conservative U.S. Chamber of Commerce is planning to spend $70 million, while labor groups are ponying up $100 million. Rich candidates just self-fund; Meg Whitman in California has spent more than $100 million of her own money with two months to go.
The money is crazy for Washington state initiatives, too: The Spokesman-Review calculated $30 million is going into this year’s war over ballot items, for and against, with the majority of the funding coming from outside the state.
All this money is being spent on you. (Yes, you!) Don’t be flattered by the attention — be suspicious. They want your vote and will do anything to get it. If you buy what they’re selling and cast your vote based on a knee-jerk, emotional reaction, they win. If you keep your head and think for yourself, then you’re making them waste their money.
Unfortunately, the ads usually work, and the investment pays off. So along with a healthy dose of caveat emptor, we should all be on the lookout to support candidates who advocate that we banish big money from our elections. We need more clarity on the issues of the day, but we’re only getting more confusion.
Ted S. McGregor Jr. is the Editor and Publisher of The Inlander.