Remember Foster Friess? If you loved politics in 2012, a rosier time when campaign gaffes were things like “horses and bayonets” and not “admitting to sexual assault on tape,” you might remember him as the guy who said that super weird thing about contraception, telling MSNBC that “back in my days, they used Bayer aspirin for contraception. The gals put it between their knees, and it wasn’t that costly.” But he’s more than just a kooky soundbite: He’s spent millions trying to realize his vision of a more conservative, Christian America, including by supporting Republican candidates. And now, he’s spending big money on himself for a change, having pledged to spend “whatever it takes” to win the Wyoming gubernatorial race.
On Tuesday, Wyoming Republicans will go to the polls—and as Politico noted this morning, we’ll see whether Friess was able to buy an election:
[Businessman Sam] Galeotos has crowded the “outsider” lane in the primary, and Friess’ start-from-scratch career in state politics, after focusing on national issues as a donor, may be too big an obstacle to overcome.
“He’s got plenty of jack and he’s using every cent of it. Every cent of it,” said former Republican Sen. Alan Simpson, who is supporting Gordon. “We’ll see whether you can really buy a governor’s race.”
Friess has spent $1.1 million on advertising, more than any other candidate, according to the site—which buys you a whole lot of airtime in Wyoming. The campaign manager for the state’s outgoing governor told Politico that Friess has “an army of paid staffers to augment the lack of political organization or organic support.” He’s also picked up an endorsement from darling sweet boy Donald Trump Jr.
But the question remains whether all that money is enough to airdrop into state politics with no experience and win its highest office. One of Friess’ opponents, natural resources attorney Harriet Hageman, has cottoned onto this line of attack, saying in a debate earlier this month that “Wyoming is not for sale” and warning that if Friess succeeds, “We will never again have a true, grassroots Wyomingite elected to high office in this state.”
That might be a little apocalyptic, but it is true that some wealthy Republicans are seeking to exert more control over how their precious cash is spent by just running for the damn office themselves. But it doesn’t always work. Don Blankenship tried the same thing this year in West Virginia and failed (although he was opposed by pretty much the entire GOP establishment, including his arch nemesis Mitch McConnell), shelling out $2 million of his own fortune on advertising. Super PACs associated with both the Democrats and the Republicans also spent big money on the race.
It also bears repeating, despite being the most high-file failure of 2016: Hillary Clinton and outside groups supporting her spent a staggering $1.1 billion—billion! With a b!—whereas Trump spent a measly $646 million.
Money is not the only question that determines whether a candidate wins an election: In New York, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was outspent by an 18-to-1 margin. You can’t buy an election like you can buy a cup of coffee, because a lot of factors go into winning a campaign, including the voters. But you can still upend a race and set the agenda doing it—and, more importantly, there’s still myriad ways for the rich to spend money on politics that don’t involve running for the office themselves. Big donors like Friess are likely more driven by ego than anything else. For the rich donor who doesn’t crave the spotlight, there are still plenty of ways to spend big and buy influence—and an entire political system dedicated to help them do just that.