Who Wants to Vote for a Multimillionaire?

Jon Corzine forks over $34 million to win a U.S. Senate primary. Is campaign spending getting out of hand?

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Steve Forbes, Ross Perot, Ron Lauder, Michael Huffington: Millionaire political novices running self-financed campaigns tend to stir up more chuckles than consternation — as long as they lose. But ex-Goldman Sachs honcho Jon Corzine put $34 million of his own money into all the right pockets. He greased New Jersey Democrat "party-builders" and got out the vote instead of blowing it all on advertising (though he did plenty of that too — $34 million allows you a certain flexibility). He broke all records for Senate campaign spending, and the main event is yet to come. And he got 58 percent of the vote. Do we have a campaign finance problem?

The upside is Corzine has a message. Winning with a platform of unabashed liberalia about universal health care, universal gun registration and state-funded college educations suggests that the victory was about more than money. And it's not as if his opponent, former New Jersey governor Jim Florio — who raised and spent less than $3 million — had a visibility problem. He was the devil New Jerseyans knew, and they told him where to go. In defeat, Florio called his vanquisher "a threat to democracy," but will still support Corzine against a Republican closer to Florio's own tax bracket, Bob Franks. Hardly the makings of a crusade.

There'll be some fallout when national Republicans make their decision whether to abandon the seat to Corzine or give Franks a fighting chance — which will cost them big, because Corzine is just getting warmed up. That means soft money, which means more fund-raising, influence-peddling and other democratic ickiness. If the GOP leaves Franks to his own devices and gets creamed, it's arguable that democracy is not served whenever the financial entry fee gets this high.

Suggestions? John McCain and the rest of the campaign-finance crowd are focused on the money that comes in; the British cap campaign spending, counting on the peddling problem to shrink accordingly. Both limitations are likely to run into free-speech problems — but then again, why should rich people have the loudest voice, whether the voice belongs to the elected official himself, as in Corzine's case, or to his contributors? In any case, now that Corzine, who made his $400 million in an instant when Goldman Sachs went public, has apparently solved the problem of why rich men don't win, brace yourself: There are an awful lot of dot-com millionaires out there looking for a new challenge....