How much did it cost to get each vote? Candidates spent up to $81, low as zero (corrected, updated)
While waiting for auxiliary ballots to be counted in last week’s municipal elections, candidates imagined a different – and possible – world of campaign politics in which there were no robo-calls, no signs and even public funding that would make it unnecessary to hold fundraisers and court donators.
That’s not the world candidates campaigned in this year, although some did their best to act like it was. Among the 25 candidates for City Council and nine for School Committee were a handful that opted out of the traditional scramble for donations, or at least downplayed the role of money in their campaigns significantly. Each panel had a low- or no-funds hero in preliminary accounting reports, with Richard Harding drawing 2,359 top votes for reelection to the School Committee on a budget of zero (according to a lack of campaign finance filings) and Craig Kelley winning another term on the council for only $5.65 per No. 1 vote – low for a council race in which losing challenger Gregg Moree spent $81.18 for each of his.
That wasn’t the only radical difference in spending. In a year incumbent Ken Reeves spent $62,144 on a council race, the top amount spent for a School Committee seat was only $10,754, far below the average $18,082 council expenditure. And challenger Kathleen Kelly wound up spending $5.12 per top vote, compared with Reeves’ $66.53, based on data from filings with the state’s Office of Campaign & Political Finance.
That the average amount spent on a vote in the council race was $25.61 (with losing challenger Sam Seidel marking the median of $24.72) and the average in the committee race was $2.83 (with losing challenger John Holland marking the median of $3.84) just shows what different races these are.
But comparing Kelley’s low-cost reelection win with Reeves’ loss and challenger Dennis Carlone’s win at $15.85 per top vote (and fellow Clean Slate member Nadeem Mazen’s win at $18.57) with the $38.48 spent per top vote by challenger Dennis Benzan – he won a council seat with the most votes of any challenger – offers a bit of hope that at the local level it may yet be ideas more than money that makes the difference.
Pending final reports, here’s a look at the money candidates raised and spent and the results, organized from most to least money spent winning a top vote:
And here’s the same information for the School Committee race:
Any errors in the tables or analysis? Anything to add? Let us know in the comments or on Facebook.
Update on Nov. 28, 2015: After gathering data for the 2015 municipal elections that included finance totals up through the Nov. 15 reporting period – and putting that data into an interactive table that allowed readers to sort as they wished – it made sense to go back and do the same for the City Council race in 2013. Not only does that make for better comparisons and a sense of trends from one election to the next; it should also more accurately represent the the vote totals resulting from the recount called by Minka vanBeuzekom. So here is that updated information (with incumbents marked by a parenthetical “i”). Once again, please let note any questions or errors so they can be addressed.
Cost per vote in the City Council race, 2013
|Candidate||Campaign money raised in 2013||Campaign money spent in 2013||How many No. 1 votes?||Cost per No. 1 vote|
|Cheung, Leland (i)||$51,387||$36,958||2,392||$15|
|Kelley, Craig (i)||$11,412||$11,750||1,093||$11|
|Maher, David (i)||$50,679||$56,131||1,460||$38|
|Phillips, Lesley Rebecca||$4,555||$5,151||83||$62.06|
|Reeves, Ken (i)||$56,062||$63,314||932||$67.93|
|Simmons, E. Denise (i)||$36,933||$41,833||1,183||$35.36|
|Toomey, Tim (i)||$80,984||$34,397||1,459||$23.58
|vanBeuzekom, Minka (i)||$31,737||$19,113||874||$21.87|
|Von Hoffmann, Kristen||$17,029||$15,465||421||$36.73|
This post was updated Nov. 12, 2013, to fix a $5,000 error in Gary Mello’s accounting and the resulting average. He was the lowest-spending candidate with reports to the OCPF. It was updated Nov. 14, 2013, to note that there would be final accounting reports as well as these preliminary ones. It was updated Nov. 28, 2015, as noted in the text of the story.
On a per-vote basis the costs might not match who won and who lost, but Benzan clearly outspent every other challenger and ended up with the most votes of all the challengers. The same is true for McGovern, but to a lesser extent than Benzan.
Similarly, Kelly and Cronin clearly outspent the other School Committee challengers, and ended up winning seats.
Of course, it’s a chicken and egg: the more initial supporters you have, the more money you raise, which helps you attract even more supporters!
Bring on the city-financed elections!
(Unless Richard Harding made his own yard signs in his backyard using ink made from the dirt in his yard and pigment from his plants, he must have spent something. I assume even donated signs would count as in-kind donations and therefore reportable campaign expenditures?)