In a year when a bumper crop of megarich candidates spent unprecedented amounts of their own money to gain office, only one self-funded politician emerged from Election Day a clear winner.
Republican Rick Scott, a health-care entrepreneur and Tea Party-backed outsider, squeaked past Alex Sink in the Florida governor's race after spending as much as $73 million of his own fortune.
But former EBay executive Meg Whitman lost her bid for the California governorship despite spending as much as $142 million of her own money, a new national record, while wrestling magnate Linda McMahon burned through $47 million – more than $90 per vote -- in her unsuccessful run for a U.S. Senate seat from Connecticut.
"This election cycle saw some very notable examples of candidates spending well into the seven if not eight-figure range and effectively getting nothing for their money," said Dave Levinthal, spokesman for the D.C.-based Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign spending.
In particular, self-financed candidates for federal offices "got obliterated," said Levinthal. Besides McMahon's failed run for the senate in Connecticut, fellow Republican Carly Fiorina spent $5.5 million to lose to incumbent California senator Barbara Boxer, and Florida Democrat Jeff Greene spent $24 million and never made it out of the Senate primary.
According to Levinthal, the results are confirmation that despite a larger-than-usual number of self-financed candidates, and a wave sweeping Republicans into office, one historical pattern has remained fairly constant. "History says that self-financed candidates typically don't do well at all," said Levinthal.
Of the self funders, McMahon spent the most per vote in the general election, since her millions were expended in a state with fewer than 4 million residents. While final results were not available at press time, she lost by 10 percentage points to state attorney general Richard Blumenthal, and seems to have spent more than $90 per vote. Whitman spent just over $45 per vote in California, and Scott spent about $28 per vote to win in Florida.
At least two state races involving self-financed candidates came down to the wire. Tom Foley used an estimated $10 million of personal funds in a close gubernatorial race that Connecticut's secretary of state called for Democrat Dan Malloy on Wednesday morning. Malloy's margin of victory at press time was 3,100 votes.
The contest between department store heir Mark Dayton and Tom Emmer for Minnesota governor, which Democrat Dayton now leads by 9,000 votes, is likely to go to a recount. Dayton spent $3 million of personal money to win the primary, but then said he would cease self-funding for the general election.
In Florida, Rick Scott earned the Republican nomination after using his fortune to best an establishment candidate in the GOP primary.
Voters did not penalize Scott for his vast personal holdings, which came in part from his time as chief executive of Columbia/HCA, the hospital chain that paid $1.7 billion in fines to settle the largest Medicare fraud case in U.S. history.