Did Meg Whitman Buy Off the Opposition?

| Mon Jul. 12, 2010 11:47 AM EDT

Being a billionaire running for office does have its perks. The New York Times explains how Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman sunk more than $1 million in the nascent film production company of Mike Murphy, a top GOP strategist who was thinking of working for Whitman’s primary opponent. Months later, Murphy became a "senior adviser" for the Whitman campaign, raking in a $665,000 fee for his first six months of work. Michael Luo reports:

In the months before the deal was closed, Mr. Murphy had been flirting with working on the campaign of Ms. Whitman’s future rival in the Republican primary for governor, Steve Poizner, the state’s insurance commissioner. But he had an about-face.

The timing of the investment and its unusual nature — Ms. Whitman lists no other holdings in the world of independent movie production — raise some questions about its ultimate purpose: Was it strictly a business decision, or part of an effort to ensure that a coveted political strategist did not work for the competition? Or perhaps a way to sweeten the pot so he would eventually sign on with the right team?

The Times story is just the latest reminder of the kind of leverage that self-financed, super-wealthy candidates—like Whitman, California Senate candidate Carly Fiorina, and Beverly Hills billionaire and Florida Senate contender Jeff Greene—can wield behind the scenes. Sure, they don’t have to rely on mega-donors and corporate lobbyists to back their campaign efforts. But taking money out of their own pockets makes it that much easier to buy off the opposition.