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Spin Control: In Spokane elections, winners spent less per vote than losers

Money may indeed be, as a powerful California politician once posited, the mother’s milk of politics. But how you spend that money matters, too.

That’s what a look at the final expenses and vote counts from Spokane’s municipal elections shows.

Candidates in the general elections for mayor, council president and the three council seats were all adequately funded. But in all five races, the losing candidates spent more per vote – in some cases significantly more – than the winners.

A similar analysis of the independent expenditure campaigns against the winning candidates shows those weren’t particularly good investments, either.

In the mayoral race, which not surprisingly was the most expensive both for the campaigns of the candidates and the independent efforts, incumbent Mayor Nadine Woodward outspent challenger and eventual winner Lisa Brown by almost $100,000, final reports filed last week with the state Public Disclosure Commission show. Woodward’s final spending hit $563,848, while Brown’s was $466,070.

That’s a total of more than $1 million spent by the two candidates alone, seeking a job that pays $168,000 a year. But heck, most of it wasn’t their personal money.

On a cost-per-vote basis, Brown spent $12.73 for each vote she received while Woodward spent $16.71 per vote.

Nearly another million – $915,581 to be exact – was spent by independent campaigns trying to persuade people to vote for one candidate or dissuade them from voting for the other.

Comparing the independent spending against Brown – which totaled $401,549, a Spokane record – the vote total she got, those campaigns could be considered a waste of $10.97 per vote for the eventual winner. The independent spending against Woodward totaled $122,642, which equaled $3.63 per vote compared to her final total. One could argue that’s a more reasonable gamble, or just a smaller waste of money.

The council president candidates spent about half of what the mayoral candidates spent on their campaign, so their cost-per-vote numbers look better. Betsy Wilkerson spent $6.05 per vote in her winning campaign; Kim Plese spent $7.85 on her second-place finish.

Independent campaign spending was also less in that race, although the pro-business Spokane Good Government Alliance, which led efforts in favor of Plese and against Wilkerson, spent more than $634,000 on those unsuccessful efforts. Comparing the anti-Wilkerson spending to the votes she got, those efforts averaged $9.83 per Wilkerson vote.

The independent spending for Wilkerson or against Plese was about a fourth of the campaigns on the flip side. Comparing the anti-Plese spending to the votes she got averaged $2.89 per Plese vote.

In Council District 1, Councilman Michael Cathcart spent $8.10 per vote in his successful re-election effort, while Lindsey Shaw spent $9.57 on a losing effort. Independent campaigns against that district were fairly light, with none against Cathcart and about 65 cents per Shaw vote.

Council District 2 had the biggest cost-per-vote disparity, with eventual winner Paul Dillon spending $5.39 per vote and Katey Treloar $10.96. Comparing the anti-Dillon spending to his eventual total breaks down to $2.88 per vote. There was no independent anti-Treloar campaign.

In Council District 3, winner Kitty Klitzke’s campaign spent $4.97 per vote compared to the Earl Moore campaign’s $7.98. When compared to the candidates’ vote totals, the comparisons for the opposition campaigns were fairly close, with $3 per vote for the anti-Klitzke efforts and $2.56 for the anti-Moore efforts.

It’s more common for winning candidates to have a higher cost-per-vote average than losers, and when such comparisons are made, criticism is deflected with some variation of “statistics are for losers.”

Candidates running for office in Spokane in the coming years might want to study these campaigns to get hints on what to do, and perhaps more importantly, what not to do.

In that vein, one other bit of math seems worth mentioning as we close out this year’s municipal campaign: comparing where the money came from to where it went.

As previously noted, the independent spending reached record highs. That was thanks largely to two big players: The pro-business Spokane Good Government Alliance and the progressive Citizens for Liberty and Labor.

The former backed Woodward, Plese, Cathcart, Treloar and Moore, while opposing Brown, Wilkerson, Shaw, Dillon and Klitzke. The latter was essentially doing the reverse, with the exception that it did not mount opposition campaigns to Cathcart and Treloar.

PDC records show that of the $1.4 million the alliance collected, about 84%, or nearly $1.2 million, came from Spokane individuals, businesses or organizations. But when it came to spending its money on campaign expenses like commercials and surveys, less than $21,000 of that money was paid directly to Spokane or Spokane Valley people or organizations.

Much of the ad money wound up in Spokane media, but it was being funneled first through political organizations in Phoenix, Washington, D.C., Virginia and Florida.

One might think that local businesspeople would want more of their money spent in the local economy, but it’s possible they were willing to bet that out-of-town experts knew more about running Spokane campaigns than local politicos. Not a good bet, based on results.

Citizens for Liberty and Labor collected $363,250, with about a fourth – $96,250 – coming from Spokane addresses. It should be noted that some of those out-of-town donor addresses belong to organizations like unions that have significant members in Spokane, including firefighters, service employees and health care workers.

That group spent $158,485 with Spokane people and businesses, which was less than half of what it collected, but still about 65% more than it received from local addresses.

Regardless of the outcome, basic economics would suggest campaigns that are good for the local economy are ones that spend the most local dollars and the most out-of-town dollars in the local economy. Those that collect money from the local economy and spend it elsewhere are a drain on the local economy.

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