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Election Follow: Money For Nothing

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It’s hard moving from the boardroom to the cloakroom.

Businesspeople jumping into politics in a big way — skipping a run for mayor, state legislature, or even Congress — have a hard time.

This election, three former CEOs, all women, all Republicans, failed to close the deal.

CNBC calculated how much they spent per vote:

  • Former WWE CEO Linda McMahon lost in the Connecticut Senate race, where each vote cost her more than $111.
  • Former Ebay CEO Meg Whitman, who spent more money than anyone not running for President, at least $160 million, garnered almost 3 million votes, or about $55 a vote.
  • And former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina could not beat Barbara Boxer, but it didn’t cost her as much—only about $5.15 a vote.
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It’s an old story, especially in California, where getting elected to statewide office is very difficult for novice politicians, regardless of business acumen or financial backing. In 1998, former Northwest co-chairman Al Checchi ran for Governor of California, spending what was then a record—$40 million, just for the primary. He lost to Gray Davis. Four years later, venture capitalist Bill Simon set the bar higher when he beat out fellow millionaire (and Los Angeles Mayor) Richard Riordan in the Republican primary for Governor. Simon, who spent a reported $80 million, lost in the general election to Gray Davis.

Your Money Your Vote - A CNBC Special Report
Your Money Your Vote - A CNBC Special Report

Rep. Darrell Issa's been down this road.

Before he ran for Congress, this successful businessman ran for Barbara Boxer's U.S. Senate seat in 1998. He lost in the primary to a politician, Matt Fong, despite spending an estimated $10 million.

But nothing may match the low return on investment which former Californian Jeff Greene experienced. The man who became a billionaire shorting the housing market moved to Florida and ran in the Democratic primary for Senate this year. Greene spent almost $6 million and received 283,000 votes, which breaks down to more than $200 per vote. Greene lost to Kendrick Meek (who lost to Marco Rubio last night).

It is possible for successful businessmen to win big. John Corzine has done it in New Jersey. But in California, the only person who has done it successfully in modern political history is Arnold Schwarzenegger, who came to power in a recall election that allowed him to skip the primary process. And he did have a little name recognition.

Questions? Comments? Funny Stories? Email funnybusiness@cnbc.com

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  • Based in Los Angeles, Jane Wells is a CNBC business news reporter and also writes the Funny Business blog for CNBC.com.

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