Did you know that in 2010, former eBay founder Meg Whitman spent $144 million of her own money in a failed bid to become governor of California?
That’s $144 million. And she didn't win.
By that measure, Bruce Rauner, who’s already spent $6 million of his own money in his GOP primary bid for governor, is small potatoes. Still, he’s managed to break the record so far for personal funding in a campaign for Illinois governor.
The problem is, more often than not, self-funders don't find the victory they seek at the ballot box despite spending millions of dollars, no matter how good they look before Election Day. In fact, Illinois—and national—politics is littered with stories of wealthy candidates pouring their own money in self-financed campaigns, only to be turned away by voters when it counted.
The previous record for personal money in an Illinois governor race came in 2006, when Chicago businessman Ron Gidwitz and his wife donated $5.3 million only to lose the primary election. Still, Rauner has a ways to go to top the U.S. Senate bids of Blair Hull, who spent $28.6 million of his own money to lose the 2004 Democratic primary to Barack Obama, and Peter Fitzgerald, who spent nearly $12 million from his own pocket to win in 1998.
Outside of Illinois, the story’s even worse. Self-funded political campaigns have taken off in recent years, with the number of such candidates rising from 78 in 1990 to 223 in 2010 and 193 in 2012, according to an analysis by The Washington Times. The Times also found that of 1,752 self-funded candidates in federal elections since 1990, only 42 have been elected—a success rate of just 2.4 percent.
That was certainly the case for pro wrestling executive Linda McMahon, who suffered two straight defeats in her bid for a Connecticut Senate seat, despite dropping $97 million of her own money.
In 2002, Texas banker Tony Sanchez spent $60 million of his own money on his Democratic campaign for governor, while billionaire businessman Thomas Golisano spent more than $50 million from his personal fortune in New York's gubernatorial race. Neither won.
That’s not to say Bruce Rauner isn’t going to walk away with at least the GOP nod after the March 18 primary. He very well could. After all, he’s a smart man, a good campaigner and is taking a number of steps to strengthen his chances that other first-time, self-financed candidates often miss.
As Winnetka businessman Bruce Rauner continues to pump more of his own money into his primary run for governor — including another $1 million Monday — he’s also been spreading the wealth to candidates and Republican organizations across the suburbs and state, perhaps winning influence that might pay off later.
The truth is, however, that if Rauner happens to make it all the way to the general election in November and beats Pat Quinn, he’ll be bucking an otherwise difficult trend for self-financed candidates like himself.
Here in Illinois, across the country and for Democrats and Republicans alike.