The Pete Ricketts Vanity Project: $7 Million and Countingby Kyle Michaelis
Yesterday's Omaha World-Herald reported that Ricketts just wrote a $1.7 million check to his campaign to unseat incumbent U.S. Senator Ben Nelson. They wrote:
The priciest political race in Nebraska history just got a little more expensive.
Republican U.S. Senate candidate Pete Ricketts has given an additional $1.7 million to his campaign, bringing his total personal contributions for the general election to $2.425 million, said campaign spokeswoman Jessica Moenning.
That will trigger the so-called "millionaires' amendment," a provision of federal election law that will allow Ricketts' opponent, Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson, to collect more money from individual contributors.
Under the amendment, once a self-financed candidate's spending hits certain levels, an opponent may raise higher-than-normal amounts from donors to catch up.
Normally, individuals can give up to $2,100 to a U.S. Senate candidate. Nelson may now collect up to $12,600 from individuals....
The cost of the Nelson-Ricketts contest is expected to top $15 million. The candidates had raised a combined $12.3 million as of June 30.
The previous high spending total was in 1988, when Democrat Bob Kerrey defeated Republican U.S. Sen. David Karnes in a race in which the candidates spent more than $7 million....
The Nelson-Ricketts race is the first time the millionaires' amendment has come into play in Nebraska.
$1.7 million. Now, when normal Nebraskans think about numbers like that, we expect them to be printed on a giant personal check to be handed over at a press conference for lottery winners. Either that or Ed McMahon has brought it to the door.
But, that's not the world Pete Ricketts inhabits. For him, this is just another drop in the bucket. For him, all those zeros and all those stacks of bills we regular folks fantasize about may as well be printed on Monopoly money. It's a game - no more, no less. And, it's a game Ricketts thinks he can win, regardless of what the polls tell him, because he knows, at the end of the day, he's the man with more zeros and thicker stacks of bills at his disposal.
And, at his disposal just about says it because this money may as well be thrown on a bonfire, tossed in the garbage, or flushed down the toilet for all the good it's going to do for the people of Nebraska.
What's so noticeably lacking from the Omaha World-Herald's report on Ricketts' latest expenditure is any mention of his total contributions so far to this demonstration of one man's vanity masquerading as democracy. It needn't have been the headline - after all, most people already know that Ricketts spent $5 million of his own money just for the Republican nomination, and they can probably handle basic addition: more than $5 million then + more than $2 million now = more than $7 million dollars so far.
Still, this latest $1.7 million is a pretty huge increment. And, now that the Millionaire's Amendment has been triggered, Ricketts is unlikely to show any further restraint all the way up to election day. Following Ricketts' spending patterns from the primary - while taking into account the infinitely higher-caliber of his opponent in the general election - there's every reason to believe that Ricketts will be putting another $3 million of his dad's Ameritrade fortune into his Senate campaign, and it would not surprise at all if his total personal spending reaches $12 million before all is said and done.
Of course, it's hard to imagine there's enough air time in this entire state to spend that much money on advertising between now and November. But, if Ricketts is serious about winning - if Ricketts seems to have any shot at this thing in post-Labor Day polling - the sky really is going to be the limit.
By himself, with his own money, Ricketts has already spent more to become a U.S. Senator than was spent by both sides in Nebraska's previously record-holding race. Ricketts has already raised the stakes so high, playing from a pool of money that may as well be limitless, that the only check on his spending is the tolerance of Nebraska's voters for the price tag he is willing to put on their democracy.
Is $7 million too much for a rich man's son to pay for a Senate seat? Is $10 million? Is $12 million? The people have their limits, and - regardless of how much Nelson spends - they're going to understand that it's Ricketts' free spending ways that have set the tone for the campaign, making it a war of dollar signs that seems to be motivated very little by issues or an actual vision for our nation.