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Spin Control: Weighing candidates’, voters’ return on election investment

How much should a reasonable person spend to secure a $42,000-a-year job? A job with pretty good benefits, like a strong health care plan, generous expenses for food and lodging, and a decent pension – if you keep the bosses happy and they keep you around for a while. It’s mostly inside work, no heavy lifting, although you may have to spend time with people who disagree with you, and some who can be downright disagreeable.

You have to agree to work 105 days straight, although no one ever does. There’s no clock to punch, and no one docks your pay if you don’t show up on one or even most of those days.

Would you spend $100? $1,000? $10,000? Get a haircut or manicure? A new tie? A new outfit? A complete makeover? A more impressive car?

If you were guaranteed to be able to keep the job for four years if selected, would you spend one year’s salary because you could pocket the other three? Two years’ worth to be sure of the other two? Four years’ worth, just to secure health care and avoid dealing with the state’s Healthplanfinder website?

Should people look askance if you spent 10 years’ worth of salary, or more?

The job in question is Washington legislator, which pays just a smidge over $42,000. Last year, some people spent into the six figures to secure one of those 147 spots.

Granted, very few legislators are drawn to the job for the salary. But very few seek the job without making some promise to be a good steward when spending the state’s money. Then many of them spend far more than they’ll ever receive in pay as an effort – sometimes unsuccessful – to win the job.

But that’s not their money, you might say; it comes from other people and organizations. That’s true, but it’s a poor argument considering the job involves deciding how to spend billions in other people’s money.

Based on the most current campaign spending reports with the Public Disclosure Commission, 72 candidates spent more than $100,000 campaigning for legislator last year. That’s about a third of the candidates statewide.

At the top of the list is Sen. Andy Hill, R-Redmond, chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee. He spent just over $973,000 on his campaign. That broke down to $37.69 per vote in his victory over Matt Isenhower, who was fourth in overall spending at more than $497,100, and fifth in per-vote spending at $21.47.

It could be argued that Hill’s position as head of the panel that decides how to spend billions in state money made him a good investment. Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina, Hill’s counterpart in the House, spent considerably less at $19,020 and about 72 cents per vote. But then, Hunter had no opponent, so he was able to transfer about $146,000 of the money he raised to a surplus account that he can spend on future campaigns.

Sen. Steve O’Ban, R-Pierce County, spent the second most overall, and per-vote, on his campaign, almost $739,000 total and $35.28 per. His opponent, Democrat Tami Green, a former state representative from Lakewood, spent about half as much, nearly $352,000 and $20.10 per vote. But considering O’Ban won, one could easily argue his was the better use of money.

The honor – or probably more accurately, notoriety – for the most spent in a losing cause goes to Democrat Shari Song of Federal Way, who spent nearly $421,000, or about $30.50 per vote, and still lost to Republican Mark Miloscia. He spent marginally less at $401,000 and $23.24 per vote, but Miloscia was a Democratic representative in the district before running as a Republican senator, so he may have been able to spend a bit less because he had a bit more name recognition.

In the Spokane area, Republican Mike Baumgartner spent the most on his re-election campaign against Democrat Rich Cowan, slightly over $402,000 or about $14.21 per vote. Cowan spent $289,767, or $13.83 per vote.

The most expensive House race in the area was in the Spokane Valley’s 4th District, where Republican incumbent Matt Shea spent almost $124,000, or $4.93 per vote, to beat Republican challenger Josh Arritola, who came in at about $106,000 or $5.77 per vote.

Rep. Kevin Parker, R-Spokane, spent about $171,000, or about $5.29 per vote, in trouncing Democrat Donald Dover, who spent less than $6,000. But he can claim one of the best deals in the area at 38 cents per vote.

James Apker, a Libertarian challenger in northeast Washington’s 7th District, only spent about a nickel per vote in losing to Republican Rep. Shelly Short. But Apker didn’t really spend much more than the $429 filing fee in losing to Short by almost 4-to-1.

So the lesson here, generally, is you get what you pay for. And we, the voters, got what they paid for.

Spin Control also appears onlineat www.spokesman.com/blogs/spincontrol.

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