Billionaires, led by Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, have begun taking a public pledge to give at least half of their fortunes to charity. California's Republican gubernatorial nominee, Meg Whitman, herself a billionaire, said she won't be going along.
Whitman's attitude on this makes me wonder if the campaign is posing the right question about her. Democrats are always accusing her of trying to buy elections. But in an America with a Supreme Court that equates speech with money, every election is an auction of some sort.
No, the real question is about her values and public-spiritedness. Whitman is spending more than $100 million to win an elected office. It's far from clear that all that money is really necessary to obtain the office. And it's certainly true that there are plenty of other members of her own political party that could do the job. In other words, by any moral standard, Whitman's presence in the governor's office isn't essential.
But she is one of the few people in the world with the power to give away $100 million or more. Think of all the people and charitable institutions that could be helped by the money Whitman is spending on the campaign.
Instead, Whitman is giving to her charities of choice: California TV stations and the political professionals who work on her campaign. It's a selfish choice.