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Self-Funded Candidates Abound, Might Actually Win

Rick Synder’s victory in yesterday’s competitive Michigan GOP gubernatorial primary is confirming pundits’ predictions that self-funded candidates might actually have a shot at victory this election cycle. Synder, a former Gateway president who spent himself into the limelight and ran under the slogan, “one tough nerd,” beat out Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.) and state attorney general Mike Cox by 10 points.

While self-funded candidates have tended to perform dismally over the last decade, winning just 11 percent of the time, Politico reports that, this year, the political climate might be more favorable to them:

Jennifer Duffy, who analyzes Senate races for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, said some of this year’s class of millionaires and billionaires could defy the odds because of the toxic sentiment among voters toward Washington.

“This is an environment particularly ripe for self-funding candidates to succeed. It is the year of the outsider, and pretty much across the board, these candidates really are outsiders. They’ve never been active in the process, even from a voting standpoint in some cases,” said Duffy.

Duffy is doubtless alluding to Meg Whitman, former eBay CEO and current GOP candidate for governor in California. In September 2009, The Sacramento Bee reported that there is no record that she registered to vote before 2002. Despite her previous disinterest in politics, Whitman is now on the verge of breaking Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s record for money spent by a self-funding candidate. She’s already spent $91 million compared to Bloomberg’s $110 million, but still has nearly three months to go before the election.

The unusually high number of self-funded political candidates in this election cycle isn’t just because of anti-Washington vibes, however. It’s a direct result of both political parties’ recruitment strategies:

After being badly outspent in recent cycles, Republican congressional leaders set out to find deep-pocketed challengers who can finance their races against well-financed incumbent Democrats without tapping the party committee’s accounts.

The results of those efforts are laid bare in campaign finance disclosure reports.

About 11 percent of the combined $657 million raised by all 2010 candidates has come in the way of self-financing — nearly double the 6 percent measured at the same juncture in the 2006 midterm, according to the Campaign Finance Institute.

Of the $134 million raised by all Republican House challengers as of June 30, a whopping 35 percent of the cash came from the candidates’ own bank accounts, the analysis found. Among Democrats, the percentage of self-made donations was just 18 percent.

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