John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat, is the richest member of the club known as the United States Senate with a personal fortune estimated at $167 million. But if Mortimer B. Zuckerman has his way, Kerry will be number two — by many, many hundreds of millions of dollars.
In fact, if New York real estate mogul and media kingpin Zuckerman becomes a U.S. senator, his own wealth would be almost four times the 2008 net worth of all U.S. senators — about $650 million.
Zuckerman, who owns The New York Daily News and U.S. News & World Report, is worth about $2 billion, according to The New York Times. And in a story Friday based largely on “two people told of the discussions,” The Times says Zuckerman is considering taking on lightweight Democrat Kirsten E. Gillibrand, current occupant of that Senate seat. A former Tennessee congressman, Harold E. Ford Jr., is also taking aim at Gillibrand.
So — does the U.S. Senate need a 72-year-old billionaire driving up the age of an already elderly Senate? The Congressional Research Service reports that the average age of senators, a little more than 63 years old, at the beginning of 2009 was among the highest ever.
There’s no suggestion here that Zuckerman is a despicable individual unworthy of sitting in the Senate. In fact, his philanthropy is well known. He has donated about $215 million between 2004 and 2008 to “causes ranging from cancer research to higher education to archeology to child poverty.”
He’s rich and powerful. Now he wants national influence. According to The Times:
Mr. Zuckerman is an outspoken supporter of Israel, and over the last few years, he has become a high-profile student of the national economy, raising his visibility through television appearances on shows like “Meet the Press” and in newspaper and magazine opinion articles. He recently attended a White House economic forum.
Gillibrand, twice elected to the House of Representatives, would face Zuckerman in November. It’s likely, sayeth The Times, Zuckerman would follow New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s decision to switch party affiliation from Democrat to Republican to run.
Gillibrand, in her five-year career in Congress, has raised about $14.5 million, mostly through individual contributions, and spent about $9 million.
For Zuckerman, that’s a financial hiccup. He’d easily be able to follow the examples of fellow billionaires Bloomberg and California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman, former eBay CEO. Bloomberg spent only 1.63 percent of his $16 billion fortune — about $261 million — to become and remain mayor of New York.
Whitman has spent about 1.5 percent of her fortune — about $19 million — on her campaign. Zuckerman’s fortune is almost twice Whitman’s. She could easily spend tens of millions more.
If statewide name recognition outside the Big Apple is an issue for Zuckerman, he can easily afford to buy it in all parts of New York.
If he decides to run, he can easily outspend the incumbent Gillibrand. He can independently fund a winning campaign. That fact alone might scare off many other credible, viable contenders for that Senate seat.
Ain’t American politics grand? Apparently, if you don’t have to raise money to run, you can do any damn thing you please — like getting elected to the Senate.