In June, the Star-Ledger/Eagleton-Rutgers poll asked registered voters in New Jersey how they felt about the money Jon Corzine spent in the Democratic Senate primary.
When told by the pollsters that "Corzine spent over $30 million -- almost all was his own money," 52 percent said it didn't bother them. Of those who were upset, 31 percent said it bothered them a lot; 12 percent, some; and 4 percent, a little. There were no differences in response by party identification.
Fifty-six percent agreed with the statement "I am not bothered by a candidate spending as much as Corzine did since it is his own money and he is not beholden to special-interest contributors"; 41 percent agreed with this statement: "The idea of one candidate spending that much money bothers me no matter where the money comes from." Thirty-six percent thought Corzine "bought" the nomination.
These responses are in line with earlier questions about wealthy candidates. Six in 10 in 1967 disagreed that Nelson Rockefeller was too rich to be trusted, according to a Harris Survey. In a 1992 Gallup poll, people assessing Ross Perot stated that his opposition to the Persian Gulf War, his stand on abortion and his inexperience in politics were more of a concern to them than his wealth. In a Harris poll that year, 58 percent rejected an argument that "it is wrong that Perot can spend $100 million or more to get himself elected." Americans felt Perot's wealth would insulate him from the power of special interests.
In a 1997 Washington Post poll, when people were asked which of six things bothered them most about the financing of campaigns, "wealthy candidates who use their own money to pay for their election campaigns" bothered people the least. Only 22 percent were concerned about it. Roughly twice as many were bothered by candidates who raise money outside their home states and, separately, by those who raise money from PACs.
Karlyn H. Bowman is a resident fellow at AEI.