What Can You Do With $150 Million

images-1My friend Tia is an amazing person. She works with people who love kids and who work tirelessly to make kids’ lives better, and to train, equip, encourage and champion those people. Her BOOST Conference has fast become a favorite destination for me to feel good about the massively talented people who could make far more money elsewhere, but who feel committed to pour their lives into kids. Tia commented on her Facebook page tonight that she wishes that our schools had the $150 million that former eBay CEO Meg Whitman spent on her bid for the governorship of California. And the amount of her own money that Meg Whitman spent was a huge part of the story here in California.

Several times during the campaign I wondered how this ugly, contentious campaign (on both sides) would have been altered had Whitman taken even half of that money and conducted a social good campaign to bring tangible change and improvement to areas of California. In looking at how corporate social good campaigns like Pepsi Refresh or Chase Community Giving have been working, why shouldn’t a candidate try to employ a similar approach? Imagine the level of awareness and connection to great causes and incredible work that could be had by a candidate that was truly willing to invest / risk their campaign on seeing something positive done? By empowering some of the thousands of inspiring, connected and passionate people around any given state?

And especially for a candidate spending their own money. If you’re going to claim that that makes you less beholden to entrenched interests, then why not go all the way? Forget spreading the money around to crony type groups that claim to deliver voters and start getting your name associated with things like school arts programs, or community development projects, or jobs to train employees in new skills for a new economy?

This is not about Meg Whitman, or Michael Bloomberg, or Jerry Brown or Harry Reid. It’s about asking if our campaigns could be as effective as corporate good campaigns seem to be (based on the expansion of the Refresh Project and other, similar efforts), and actually accomplish something in the process?

Is this really all that unrealistic? What would happen if television and radio stations, direct mail companies and web sites went without some of their every 2 or 4 year advertising blitz funding, and instead we heard about how Joe Blow for Senate was responsible for the funding of a scholarship endowment for at-risk students? Or go ahead and pay for a few million anti-bullying bracelets to be distributed throughout the state as a way to signal your support for those efforts? Heck, even invest some money in things or with organizations that might not vote for you but that do great work, just because they do great work.

Sure, there’s bound to be a level of cynical exercising of that kind of approach, but at least you could come out on the other side of the campaign and have something of lasting impact to show for it, right? Instead of using the vast sums of money that go to the same old places, why not use that money to show voters where you think investments should be made and show us how those programs reflect an approach to governance?

It’s just a thought, but I have to think that the priorities of campaigns can be reflected in actions in addition to rhetoric. I’d love to know your thoughts on this idea.