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Shawn Vestal: The big money fell short, up and down the ballot

So we’ve got a good idea how the candidates and issues fared.

But how did the money do? That big, big money behind the megaphone that’s been blaring for weeks?

Did it buy what it tried so hard to buy?

We’re still counting, but it’s safe to say: Nope. In an election where campaign spending soared beyond anything this city has ever seen, the big money fell flat.

The millionaires’ megaphone didn’t turn the tide.

In the races for Spokane mayor, council president and City Council, the conservative candidates with the most financial wind in their sails were trailing their opponents in nearly every race, most of them by wide enough margins that the races can be viewed as over.

It’s been an expensive campaign. When you consider all sources of election spending – including funds raised by the campaigns themselves, in which donations are limited, and money raised by independent political committees, in which donations are unrestricted – nearly $4.1 million poured into City Hall races.

Seventy percent of that supported the conservatives aligned with incumbent Mayor Nadine Woodward – more than $2.8 million, compared to $1.2 million for the candidates running on the left.

The biggest difference was the massive infusion of unchecked independent expenditures on the right. The biggest spender was the Good Government Alliance, which poured $1.4 million into the races, raised from a relative handful of wealthy individuals and businesses representing what you might call the Larry Stone wing of local politics.

It didn’t pay off.

At the top of the ticket, mayoral challenger Lisa Brown posted a 3.5-point lead over Woodward on Tuesday night. If you add up all the campaign cash in the mayoral race – the money raised by candidates and independent groups trying to help them – Brown was outspent by a margin of more than 2-to-1.

Her lead is small enough that it will take another day or two to declare a winner with certainty, but that’s not the case in any other race. Almost every other outspent liberal was ahead by a significant margin.

Betsy Wilkerson, outspent 2.5-to-1, led Kim Plese by 6.5 points.

Paul Dillon, outspent more than 3-to-1, led Katey Treloar by more than 7 points.

Kitty Klitzke, outspent 2.3-to-1, led Earl Moore by more than 20 points.

Among all the candidates backed by the Good Government Alliance, only incumbent Councilman Michael Cathcart won, just as many observers expected. Cathcart had an 8-point lead Tuesday night over Lindsey Shaw, who was outspent by a margin of more than 12-to-1.

It was a rocky night all around for the effort to try and hoist conservative candidates into office. In addition to the Good Government Alliance, the National Association of Realtors spent more than $433,000 on local conservatives – at the urging of the Spokane Association of Realtors.

In addition to the big money, the Woodward ticket drafted considerable help from the local GOP machine and former consultants and staffers for Cathy McMorris Rodgers. A former GOP chairwoman started a faux “news” website to elevate oppo research against liberal candidates – information that often made its way into fliers and TV ads in which half-truths were as true as things got.

Brown and the candidates affiliated with her campaign, on the other hand, drew comparatively little outside spending. The biggest independent committee was the union-funded Citizens for Labor and Liberty, which raised just less than $365,000.

All in all, independent spending on the Woodward slate was more than six times higher than their opponents – an overwhelming advantage everywhere but the ballot box.

Make what you will of that. Whether the city’s blue tint is just too strong for a handful of big spenders to overcome, or whether the particular nature of these candidates and their ideas actually defined the outcome, or whether the stream of attack ads deploying the knife-fight tactics of D.C. campaigns – like a community theater version of a Broadway show – backfired, the money didn’t buy what it tried to buy.

At least in the City Hall races, that is.

In one notable local race, the big spending and the outcome did line up. The biggest PAC on the left of any issue in this area, Justice Not Jails, raised more than $527,000 to oppose Measure 1, the county’s $1.7 billion proposal to build a new jail and fund other undefined law enforcement purposes.

Measure 1 lost big, 63% to 37%.

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