This kind of spending is almost completely unheard of. It is seriously a lot--a whole, whole lot--of money.
Former eBay CEO Meg Whitman has spent just over $26.8 million in her race for governor in California over the last three months. That's right: from Jan. 1 through March 17, Whitman has spent as much as it takes to win some statewide races, according to recently released financial disclosures.
This massive disbursement of cash was facilitated by Whitman's personal wealth: the candidate has contributed just over $39 million to her own campaign so far.
Whitman's spending rivals that of some presidential campaigns. By contrast, John McCain spent just over $31.1 million in the first three months of 2008--at the same point in his election cycle as he sought the GOP presidential nomination. And McCain's financial disclosures actually include spending through March 31, covering two more weeks than Whitman's filings. That was before McCain opted for public funding, as he was allowed to spend unfettered in early 2008 (McCain did later return some contributions from this period). (UPDATE: While this comparison does illustrate the point that Whitman is spending a lot, I should probably note that McCain wasn't exactly rolling in cash at this point in his campaign. Six months earlier, news stories had been written about how his campaign was running out of money.)
The former eBay CEO is polling well ahead of conservative primary rival Steve Poizner (the two will face off June 8), and Democrat Jerry Brown looms as a potential favorite in the general election. Every major poll had shown Brown leading or tied with Whitman, until a Field poll last week showed Whitman ahead by three points.
Whitman's $26.8 million is more than eight times what Poizner spent (over $3 million) and almost three and a half times what Brown spent (just under $10.8 million) over the same period.
A lot of this epic wave of cash went to TV and radio ads attacking the fellow multimillionaire Poizner. Whitman's biggest expenses in 2010 included $20.38 million to Alexandria, Virginia-based Smart Group Media (which has previously worked for McCain '08, the National Republican Congressional Committee, and the Republican National Committee) to air ads in California, mostly questioning Poizner's fiscal-conservative credentials, such as this 15-second spot: