eBay Dollars Influence Politics

Meg Whitman now owns the record for personal spending on a campaign. The Republican candidate for Governor of California spent a portion of her billion dollar fortune on her campaign. Whitman said spending her own money meant that she did not owe anyone any favors, but she might already owe a huge favor to Pierre Omidyar.

Omidyar launched the online auction site eBay in 1995. While many early websites died after the collapse of the dotcom bubble, eBay has proven to have staying power. Omidyar launched the auctions part of the site as part of a larger personal site. The first item that sold on eBay was a broken laser pointer. The sale of the item shocked Omidyar, so much so that he contacted the winner of the auction to ask if he understood that the laser pointer did not work. The person who purchased the item told Omidyar he was a collector of broken laser pointers.

Due to the unlimited access provided by the Internet, virtually any interest could be satisfied by online auctions. In 1997 eBay was hosting more than two million auctions a month, while only hosting a quarter of a million during the entire year of 1996. Whitman was hired as CEO of eBay in 1998 and guided the company into its initial public offering. Shares of eBay stock sold for $53.50 on the first day of trading. Omidyar and Whitman were billionaires.

The company expanded and grew as with as internet use increased. By 2002, eBay was big enough to gobble up competitors and even purchase PayPal. From a single broken laser pointer, eBay has expanded to offer any item from books for online college courses to sports figurines. It is a marketplace for small businesses and a way to make money online. Although probably not as much as the more than $100 million Whitman put into her campaign.

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