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Jewish World Review Sept. 8, 2000 / 7 Elul, 5760

George Will

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Consumer Reports

Will He Spend It All? -- ROSELLE PARK, N.J. | At a June news conference after winning the Democratic nomination for the Senate seat of retiring Democratic Sen. Frank Lautenberg (who was a wealthy political novice when first elected in 1982), Jon Corzine, a wealthy political novice, announced that his campaign was laying off 51 people. At that point, the campaign of four-term congressman Bob Franks, winner of the Republican nomination, had, Franks says, five staffers.

At that news conference Corzine said, in what some heard as a semi-demi-apology, that he had needed to spend pots of money because he was unknown in this state when he decided to fight former governor Jim Florio for the nomination. The implication was that because Corzine's name was now known by 94 percent of the electorate, he could spend less exuberantly. Corzine is spending more on television this week than the approximately $1 million Franks has raised since the primary.

But if he had not spent another nickel between June and November, he would still have set an amazing record: His spending in the primary alone--$34.7 million--was many millions more than any nonpresidential candidate had ever spent in primary and general election campaigns combined. Franks spent $2 million on his primary.

Granted, New Jersey, with virtually no television stations, is a hideously expensive state for politicians, who must buy time in the largest (New York) and fifth-largest (Philadelphia) media markets. This spending buys exposure mostly to people who are not New Jersey voters. Corzine's expenses included millions for 40 or so consultants and for thousands of people to knock on doors. Well, why not? Corzine made hundreds of millions as CEO of Goldman Sachs, and no law does or should restrain his spending of it. As Franks says, more or less cheerfully, Americans have a right to the pursuit of happiness and "this is his way to seek happiness."


However, Franks's task is cheerfully to tap, and foment, unhappiness about Corzine's being what Franks calls "a human ATM." So he urges people to visit Corzine's Web site and ponder his proposals for "universal" this and that (health care, long-term care, quality public education, gun registration and licensing, and--seriously--"access and opportunity"). Franks's estimate--probably no more meretricious than most such estimates--of the costs of paying for all this is $4,934 in extra taxes for every taxpaying entity in America.

Franks's argument is that Corzine has a God-given right to toss his money to the wind but that Corzine plans a similar tossing of taxpayers' money. This, says Franks, is only to be expected from someone who, the poor dear, has been unhinged by good fortune and rendered, through no fault of his own, incapable of understanding how the other 99.99 percent of Americans live.

Recent history offers Franks a sample of how such an argument can be made. On the eve of the 1994 elections that ended 40 years of Democratic control of the House of Representatives, Speaker Tom Foley rejected the idea that members of Congress are overpaid. He noted that his salary had undergone "some slight change since I've become speaker," but said that "in the rank of people from my home city, I'm way down on the list." Critics pounced, noting that the normal congressional salary was $133,600, but Foley's pay as speaker was $171,500, so the "slight change" was $37,900, much more than the median income ($23,107) in Foley's district. And as for his rank in Spokane, the median household income there was $25,769. Foley lost.

Which does not mean Corzine can be beaten by a comparable argument that he cannot possibly fathom the realities of life as experienced by the average voter. A recent poll shows that 52 percent of New Jersey voters are bothered not at all by Corzine's spending. However, 31 percent, including many Democrats, are bothered "a lot." Almost one-third of the electorate is, for Franks, a promising base of disaffected voters.

At Franks's headquarters on the night of the June primary, one of those hand-printed signs that are supposed to look like spontaneous exclamations of the vox populi (actually, it was the handiwork of a Franks staffer) was held in a position visible to assembled television cameras. The sign's message is now emblazoned on bumper stickers distributed by the campaign: "Make him spend it all, Bob."

The more Corzine spends, to the point of wretched excess, the better it might be for Franks, who led by five points in a Gannett poll last Sunday. Franks's problem is that wretched excess has never been a hanging offense in this happiness-pursuing Republic.

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