Now that Mitt Romney has more or less cemented his spot as Republican nominee for this fall’s presidential election, it can now safely be said that a lot of millionaires and billionaires wasted a lot of money propping up politicians with absolutely no chance of winning the election. Rick Santorum and Rick Perry have formally dropped out, and Newt Gingrich’s campaign has reached new quixotic lows. A few people foolishly donated millions of dollars to these men’s Icarus flights toward Tampa, Fla., and they’ll never see that money again — it’s already been spent on 30-second advertisements full of nostalgia, half-truths and nostalgic half-truths.
Had you or I invested $1 million in a political campaign — pretending we could — we’d likely expect a return. That is a lot of money, after all. Donating during the primaries is a risky wager, however. The only worthwhile return would be for your horse in the race to become president and presumably give you a cushy diplomatic post — something Caribbean — and a windfall tax break for your industry of choice. Seems reasonable, right? But the odds are low, especially when considering candidates like Rick Santorum, whose sheer inelectability I used to comfort myself with whenever I felt embarrassed about my own ambitions, personal or professional — at least I’m better off than that guy. But for these wealthy donors, whose ability to speak with their wallets has been finally unfettered by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, they’ll never see a return on that investment, or…speech. Not one red cent. And they singlehandedly (and million-dollarsdedly) extended the lifespan of doomed political campaigns! Don’t they get anything?
Here is where we must introduce the less cynical and more terrifying notion that, perhaps, Foster Friess really wanted Rick Santorum to live at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and that Sheldon Adelson sincerely wanted to see such a puffy-looking fellow deliver four States of the Union. Not only does that seem unlikely from an ideological standpoint, it also seems deeply impractical — the amount of money they donated to these Super PACs seems to indicate that they’d expect something in return. $1 million isn’t pocket change to anyone, right? Right?
You should probably sit down for this
Yes, Virginia, $16 million is pocket change for Sheldon Adelson. It really is. Almost literally.
With no further ado, allow us to put this in perspective for you. According to CNN Money, the average 25-34 year old has a paltry net worth of $8,525. Below, we examine what you’d have to spend, proportionally, to do as much damage to your finances as these four obscenely wealthy gentlemen did during primary season. It requires minor suspension of disbelief, after all these men’s assets aren’t all liquid, but it should help shed light on just how difficult it was for them to part ways with sums of money never seen before in politics.
Net Worth: $24.8 billion
2012 Donations to Newt Gingrich’s Winning Our Future PAC: $16 million
Fraction of Net Worth: 1/1150
The casino magnate, it has likely been pointed out elsewhere, did an astonishingly bad job of playing the odds here. Would America elect a man with such a lurid past? And with such a fat face? The latter, perhaps, was the affinity Adelson felt for Gingrich. And Gingrich, for his part, pilfered it away. A whole $16 million of Sheldon Adelson’s money landed right down on the Pass line, and Newt rolled snake eyes. To try to understand how much this matters to Sheldon Adelson, imagine going to a casino with $1150 in your hand — all your money in the world. Upon entering, you put $1 down on black at the roulette table and lose. That is how much $16 million is to Adelson.
For someone with a net worth of $8,525 to donate like Adelson, they’d need to cough up $7.50, or roughly the cost of a six pack of Budweiser tallcans.
Harold Simmons/Contran Corporation
Net Worth: $9.3 billion
2012 Donations to Rick Perry’s Make Us Great Again PAC: $1 million
Fraction of Net Worth: 1/9300
Harold Simmons, owner of Contran Corporation, which is likely as evil as it sounds — they do waste management and chemical manufacturing — donated $1 million to see Rick Perry elected president. That is just one-9300th of his and his corporation’s net worth. This is the smallest proportional donation among this distinguished group, and arguably the worst investment of them all. But don’t worry about Simmons, there will always be titanium oxide to be manufactured and waste to be managed, and he won’t miss that million dollars anyway.
For someone with a net worth of $8,525 to donate like Simmons/Contran, they’d need to cough up $0.92, or roughly the cost of, well, nothing worthwhile at all. You could probably talk the guy at the bodega into giving you the bag of chips 8 cents short.
Net Worth: $530 million
2012 Donations to Rick Santorum’s Red White and Blue Fund: $1.6 million
Fraction of Net Worth: 1/331
Foster Friess, the wealthy money manager, is also a champion of conservative Christian values, and just like Jesus would have wished, he champions these values by giving millions of dollars to doomed presidential campaigns. Specifically, he gave $1.6 million to Rick Santorum’s Red White and Blue Fund. Friess — who, FYI Californians, has nothing to do with Fosters Freeze thank goodness — is worth an estimated $530 million (slightly less than Diddy). Here, our fractions of net worth drop down to the three-digit range, but make no mistake: this money still means nothing to Friess.
For someone with a net worth of $8,525 to donate like Friess, they’d need to cough up $25, which still gets you a fifth of Jim Beam these days, right?
Net Worth: $650 million
2012 Donations to Restore Our Future PAC: $4 million
Fraction of Net Worth: 1/162
Bob Perry, the man behind Perry Homes, the homebuilding company, is the only man on this list to have invested wisely. His $4 million donation to Mitt Romney’s Restore Our Future PAC actually paid off, so far — his man got the nomination. Whether he will achieve his ultimate goal will not be known for another excruciating seven months. And whether, Romney, a private equity man, would give the homebuilding industry any more incentives than it already has, despite its deleterious effects on the American economy, is also unclear. Perry’s donation is worth just 1/162nd of his net worth of $650 million — he could donate that amount as many times as there are baseball games in the regular season.
For someone with a net worth of $8,525 to donate like Perry, they’d need to cough up $52.60, or enough for two fifths of Jim Beam.
Don’t forget to get out and vote in November!