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Creating the Virtual Candidate

Interesting tidbit to think about: Bloomberg spent $100 million to become NY City mayor. . . and now has a LOT of influence on education there, getting more influence bang for his bucks than Gates.

By topeditor (aka Robert Frank)

Almost all serious philanthropists eventually come to a sad realization: Their money is a drop in the bucket compared with government spending.

Those wanting to fix societyâs biggest problems â education, health care, the environment â quickly realize that their millions are miniscule compared to the hundreds of billions or trillions spent by government in the same areas. Such philanthropists eventually shift their focus to using their money and influence to help better direct policy and public spending, funding changes in government and not just charity. Some call it âleverage.â Others call it âbuying power.â

âYou see pretty quickly that that youâre just spitting in the wind unless you can get government to change,â one top education philanthropist told me in my forthcoming book [1 Richistan.

An aide to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg explained to me that if Bill Gates spent $100 million to improve the New York City school system, he could certainly have an impact. But Mr. Bloomberg, who spent more than $100 million to get elected to two terms as mayor, has gotten more bang for the roughly the same amount of bucks: By getting elected, he now helps direct the school-systemâs policies and budget of more than $15 billion.

âOne could easily argue that Mayor Bloomberg is having a much greater impact on improving New York City schools than Gates, even if they spend the same,â the aide says in Richistan.

All of which brings us to todayâs big question: Who the heck is âEd?â

Newspapers and TV were filled with the news this morning that billionaires Bill Gates and Eli Broad are spending $60 million to fund a candidate named Ed for the 2008 presidential election. Ed, it turns out, doesnât exist. He is a symbol for a campaign by the two men to make education (hence the name âEdâ) a leading issue in the upcoming elections.

Their $60 million is the largest amount ever spent on a single-issue political initiative. And while this campaign pales in comparison to the more than $2 billion that Messrs. Gates and Broad have already spent trying to reform education, it is likely to have a far greater impact.

The [3] âEd in â08â³ campaign has three main aims: more rigorous and unified curriculum standards nationwide; a longer school day and year; and better teacher quality and pay. The campaign wonât endorse any real candidates, since thatâs not allowed by campaign-finance laws.

As Mr. Broad said in this New York Times article by David Herszenhorn, âRight now, [education] is too low on the list of priorities for all the candidates and our job is to get it up on the list.â

Both men have taken pains to call this a ânon-partisanâ campaign. But since Mr. Broad is a big Democratic donor, and Mr. Gatesâs policies lean liberal even if he gives to both parties, they will no doubt become the targets of GOP attacks.

Yet it will be tough for any candidate to openly oppose improvements in education. And if the campaign is successful, it could pave the way for a new kind of philanthropolitics, where the rich use their money to influence policy for the greater good â not for their their own benefit.

— Top Editor,the Wealth Report blog
Wall Street Journal
WSJ.com: http://blogs.wsj.com/wealth


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