Introducing The Senate Candidate Of the Future

Hull's candidacy illustrates an increasingly prominent phenomenon: the attempt of rich unknowns to buy their way into major public office. As the cost of campaigns continues to soar, these people have become more important to cash-strapped political parties. Over the past decade, a succession of them have spent eye-popping sums.

—Joshua Green

The Atlantic, January/February 2004

Reuters reporter: Where is this guy? I'm leaving.

Chicago Sun-Times reporter: He can't be serious. He can't win. Not against Obama. Not after the Keyes fiasco.

Chicago Public Radio reporter: He's worth billions, and he's spending about half of it on this race. Sorry, but that's serious.

Sun-Times: Look at this place. Cigars. Wing chairs. Pewter. He's announcing at his club. What kind of nut announces his Senate candidacy at his club?

Public Radio: Jon Corzine spent $62 million. That seemed like a lot of money.

Reuters: It is a lot of money, where I come from.

Public Radio: Well, this guy makes Corzine look like a cheapskate.

Sun-Times: I hear he's smart. He owns 12 companies. He went to Harvard.

Reuters: I hear he's an idiot. He inherited.

WDUH-TV On Your Side Eyewitness Newsperson: Hey, gang. Am I late? I was getting coiffed.

Reuters: No later than usual. Lucky for you, he's even later. Nice hair.

WDUH-TV: I missed my morning paper. What's my story today?

Reuters: OK, I'm only going through this once, so listen. We're at the Lawnbrier Golf and Kennel Club in Evanston, Illinois. This is a press conference. See, Barack Obama is a hot young Democrat running for the open Senate seat. His first Republican opponent drops out in a scandal. His second opponent, Alan Keyes, puts his foot into it one time too many and gets an emergency appointment as ambassador to Brunei. So the Republicans are desperate. Along comes this unknown mega-tycoon who offers to finance his whole campaign out of his own pocket because he wants to be a senator.

WDUH-TV: Is that legal?

Reuters: Being a senator? Yeah, last time I checked.

WDUH-TV: No, buying a Senate seat. I mean, how much can this guy spend?

Public Radio: Millions. Billions. As much as he wants. The law says it's corrupting if he takes millions from other fat cats, but he can't bribe himself.

Reuters: No, it's better than that. The campaign laws make raising money hard, so the parties' favorite kind of candidate is a zillionaire who can pay his own way.

WDUH-TV: Whoa. That's a good story. Think I could find an angle with kids or car crashes?

Sun-Times: Wait. I think they're coming. This must be him.

Reuters: In the Panama hat? You're kidding me. When did Panama hats go out?

Public Radio: And the ascot. Check it out—an ascot! And—white shoes?

Reuters: Who's the woman?

Sun-Times: I dunno, but I haven't seen long gloves and a floral hat since Mamie Eisenhower.

Reuters: And enough pearls to gag an oyster bed. And is that a feather boa? Please tell me that's not a feather boa.

WDUH-TV: The hair's not bad.

The wife: Thurston, darling, who are these people? They look as if they haven't eaten since last week.

The candidate: It's the press, Lovey. We have to talk to them about my campaign.

The wife: Well, they don't look very pressed to me.

The candidate: I think they have to share their limousines. Hello, everybody. Hello? Is this working? Good afternoon, everyone. My name is Thurston Howell III, and I'm running for the United States Senate. I had a man write a nice statement for me so I'll just read that to you now.

"My name is Thurston Howell III and I'm running for the United States Senate."

The wife: I believe you already said that, Thurston.

The candidate: Did I? Well, I think I'm supposed to say everything twice. They don't always get it the first time.

The wife: Thurston, why are they looking at us like that? You! Young man, yes, you, in the—good grief, is that a corduroy jacket? Thurston, how did he get in here?

The candidate: It's just for today, Lovey. He can't join. Now, I believe I was orating. Oh, yes: "Our great country and this great state are adrift in an hour of turbulence and storm. The ship of state is tossed. If not for the vision of a fearless crew, our nation will be lost. We choose now between two courses. The time has come for a fresh leader, one who can —"

Lovey, do you have the second page? This seems to be my laundry order.

The wife: Oh, dear. I must have sent it out with your riding pants.

The candidate: Dash it all! Well, I'll extemporize. We Howells are silver-tongued to the marrow.

Like my father and my grandfather before him, I am a Howell. We Howells have a long tradition of service, and we've had hundreds of servants to prove it. We also know that money talks, and when money talks, people listen. So, my friends, get ready to take a message with a lot of numbers.

There, I think that should about do it.

The wife: Bravo, Thurston! Oh, my. They don't look very pleased. Do they want a tip?

The candidate: Splendid thought, Lovey. Here, everybody, there's a stack of hundreds. Take one and pass them along. Well, that concludes our press conference. Has everyone admired Lovey's brooch? Sets off those girlish eyes, doesn't it?

The wife: Thurston, you are a devil!

The candidate: Oh, I still have my ways.

Reuters: Question, Mr. Howell?

The candidate: No, none that I can think of. Do you have any questions, Lovey?

Sun-Times: No, we have questions. You're supposed to answer questions. That's why it's called a press conference. Here's my question: Is this some kind of joke? Do you have a clue about the Senate? Do you have a clue about politics?

The wife: Really, the cheek! Young lady, if you continue to assume that tone with my husband, you'll be required to leave our employment.

Sun-Times: I don't work for you, and I can't believe this is happening.

The candidate: Lovey, go get my checkbook. This person's being disagreeable. How much did you say your newspaper costs?

Reuters: Mr. Howell, forgive my impertinence, but is there any particular reason you want to be in the Senate, or is this an egotistical lark?

The candidate: I am a man of high ideals. I want to raise Washington to a higher plane. I read recently that the Senate has become a millionaires' club. When I saw that, I thought: America can do better! Why not a billionaires' club? Our country deserves the best.

Public Radio: Mr. Howell, exactly how much are you prepared to spend to defeat Mr. Obama?

The candidate: Mr. Who?

Public Radio: Your opponent. The other guy.

The candidate: What other guy?

Public Radio: The Democrat. They guy you've got to beat to get elected.

The candidate: Oh, I don't propose to beat anybody. Whoever this fellow is, if he wants to be senator, I'm sure we can reach an amicable arrangement. I could set him up in some other state. Or if he wants a job, you know, I'm sure we could find him something to his liking. Lovey, remind me to find out who this O'Hara fellow is. Do I know his father?

WDUH-TV: Mr. Howell! Am I getting this straight? Your plan is to buy out the newspapers? And buy out the other candidate? Is that it?

The candidate: And buy many, many TV spots. Best ads money can buy. Top dollar. Gold-plated.

WDUH-TV: Oh. Sounds good to me.

Sun-Times: Well, it sounds rotten to me. In 25 years of journalism, sir, I have never seen a travesty like this press conference, and I have never seen such an outrage against the democratic process.

The candidate: Oh, you'll get used to it. All my people do.

Sun-Times: I don't work for you.

The candidate: You do now.

Public Radio: Sir, I don't care how rich you are. I mean, you can't just buy yourself a Senate seat. There are bribery laws, campaign finance laws.

The candidate: Young man, Howells do not break the law. We own it, and we take good care of it. I have hired the best legal minds in the business and they assure us we're well within the rules. My general counsel is here somewhere; he can explain all that. Lovey, could you go find him?

The wife: There he is, in the back. Yoo-hoo! Gilligan!