As the California Republican primary race for governor draws to a close, much is being made of Meg Whitman’s largely self-financed campaign. Funny, I don’t recall such a fuss or such attention to detail when male candidates have done it. Remember Republicans Steve Forbes and Mitt Romney? What about Michael Bloomberg, mayor of New York City? Democrats may have made a little noise about their self-financing, but I don’t recall any articles written detailing what hotels they stayed at or the “white glove service” of chartered airplanes they used.
Democrats don’t have much to say when one of their own guys does it. Interestingly enough, you won’t find many such articles about Minnesota Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Mark Dayton, who spent $12 million pursuing the Senate seat he won in 2000, and is running a largely self-financed campaign this year. His story is certainly not dominating the media headlines like Whitman’s. You may not remember Rahm Emanuel’s $450,000 loan to his own campaign in 2002, probably because it did not make the news, though it was reported at the end of this article about Barack Obama, six years after the fact.
You are probably also not reading about billionaire Jeff Greene, Democratic Senate candidate from Florida, or Rick Scott, a Republican who is running for Governor of the same state and has already contributed millions of dollars to his own campaign. Both intend to do a lot more self-financing of their campaigns. These stories are covered only in local media, and without the hint of the judgment that invariably infuses articles about Whitman’s wealth.
So why is Meg Whitman’s story a big deal? Some will say it’s because the race is in California, or because her contributions set a record, but I contend it’s because she’s a woman. I contend this because I have watched for the last two years as political women and their wealth have continued to pop up in media stories that are designed to denigrate them.
I first noticed this trend during Hillary Clinton’s campaign. When she loaned her campaign $5 million during the 2008 primary, it was instant news, as were subsequent loans she made, totaling $13 million. I thought this was weird at the time, because I recalled John Kerry loaning himself $6.4 million for his primary campaign in 2004, and he did not garner nearly as much media coverage for it.
Then there was the brou-ha over Sarah Palin’s pricey wardrobe. (She’s recently also come under fire for daring to accumulate wealth.) This campaign cycle it’s been Meg Whitman, Carly Fiorina, and Linda McMahon who are the culprits, while little attention is given to similar male candidates.
As you can clearly see, there’s a double standard when it comes to men, women, and money. I call the double standard the money trap. We may have a come a long way, baby, but it’s still unseemly for a woman to amass a fortune, especially if she uses it to enrich her own life. There are no female equivalents to Warren Buffet or Michael Bloomberg, both of whom generally enjoy the public’s affections. When women are rich, whether they came that way or made themselves that way, they do not get the same respect. Just ask Oprah, who seems as belittled in the media as she is beloved by the public.
The biggest clue that Whitman’s media coverage is about the money trap for women is the treatment of Whitman’s own rival, Steve Poizner. Poizner has spent some $25 million of his own money, and yet we are not hearing stories about his self-financing except in relation to reports about the record-breaking amounts both candidates have spent in the race. His contributions, when they are reported, are mentioned almost as an afterthought to hers. There are no stand-alone stories about Poizner’s use of his own cash to advance his campaign.
Meg Whitman is a self-made woman who amassed her fortune running eBay, which turned out to be one of the biggest Internet start-up companies to come out of the 1990s. She made her money honestly and I don’t see why she shouldn’t use it to advance her political career, just as Mark Dayton, Jeff Greene, and Rick Scott are. Both sides are guilty of exploiting this double standard for political gain, and it is up to us to call them out on it or nothing will change. Perhaps we can even use it to our advantage. Here’s a sound bite that would kill: Meg Whitman’s use of her own money means she won’t be as beholden to special interests as some.