Money has bought a lot of elections this year.
It bought billionaire former eBay CEO Meg Whitman a Republican gubernatorial nomination in California.
It bought millionaire former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina a Republican Senate nomination in California.
It bought millionaire former World Wrestling Federation CEO Linda McMahon a Republican Senate nomination in Connecticut.
But money could not buy billionaire former Republican Jeff Greene a Democratic Senate nomination in Florida.
Greene, who ran for a California Congressional seat as a Republican in the 1980s, made a fortune by investing in credit default swaps—betting on and then profiting from the housing crisis and the financial meltdown of 2008. He entered the Florida Democratic primary for an open US Senate seat, betting that an open checkbook could paper over old sins and but him the nod.
And for a time it looked like Greene’s money might turn the trick.
With $30 million in spending on television and radio ads, as well as mailings that attacked the early frontrunner in the race, Congressman Kendrick Meek, Greene pulled close in the polls. The Obama White House backed away from Meek and it seemed as if Florida was going to give another nomination to the biggest spender.
But Meek fought back, with the steady assistance of former President Bill Clinton, who held five fundraisers for the congressman, appeared three times in Florida on his behalf and finally recorded last-minute phone calls urging voters to back "the real Democrat" in the race.
At the same time, allegations that Greene had hosted wild parties featuring drugs and paid "hostesses" on his private yacht tripped up the billionaire contender in the final days of the race.
Meek was outspent by a dramatic margin. Yet, he won easily Tuesday—leading Greene by a 57-31 margin, with the remainder of the vote going to minor candidates.
That made Greene both one of the biggest spenders and one of the biggest losers of the 2010 cycle.
His defeat is encouraging because it says that while money often (perhaps the better word is "usually") wins, it does not always prevail. That said, Meek owes thank you notes to Bill Clinton for sticking by him and to Jeff Greene for creating enough bad publicity to offset his big spending.