Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Thurston County political campaign kiss of death

What's the best way to lose an election in Thurston County, even if you have more resources than your opponent?

Run over a dog during a parade? No.

Yell at someone when you're out doorbelling? I've actually heard about this happening, and that person didn't win, but still no.

Have an outside group spend tons of money on your campaign in what we call "independent spending." The candidate in this case isn't seeking this spending, but rather, a totally independent group, with no organization with the actual campaign, puts money into the game.

And, in the past few cycles, every candidate that has had money spent in their name without their control has lost.

Independent spending in county commissioner races first started in earnest in 2006 when about 58,000 was spent for Kevin O'Sullivan and $7,000 against him. In contrast, just about $3,000 was spent in favor of his successful opponent Bob Macleod. So, despite outspending Macleod $99,000 to $63,000 in campaign money overall, the extra independent money hung around his neck like a chain and brought him down.

We see the same thing happen in 2009 when just about $20,000 was spent in the name of Democrat Jon Halvorson, $7,000 for Republican Judy Wilson and $1,403 for Robin Edmondson. Each lost, with Halvorson with the most spent, when down first in the primary.

Also, in 2008, Cathy Wolfe (Wilson's opponent) had $6,500 spent against her in independent spending. That money ended up kicking back at Wilson.

So, with a special sort of election between Pat Beehler and Karen Valenzuela for another county commission seat this year, how will independent spending impact his race?

Well, first, it might not. The amounts of independent spending have dropped through the floor. Typically, the more conservative candidate gets more independent money spent in their name, but Beehler has only seen $1,300 go out for him.

The other part is about $260 that has been spent for Valenzuela and against Beehler and Dan Venable (who lost in the primary). I'm assuming this is the same expenditure split between its targets.

If you go by total numbers, Beehler will go down. Or, the spending will have no impact and we'll just see who wins on their own merits.

All that said, there probably isn't a direct connection between independent spending and victory, but rather a convenient coexistence. In short, its much more likely that independent spending will go to a candidate that some people (like builders) really want to win, but who doesn't really have what it takes. Or, is seen as needing to be propped up.

6 comments:

Matthew Green said...

Forgot one: The realtors association spent $19,000 for Craig Ottavelli. He won.

Matthew Green said...

Also, expect to see big IE spending in the city council races, at the last moment.

Thad Curtz said...

One complication about independent expenditure money is that it can be spent (and reported to the PDC) at the very end of the campaign. At that point, it's difficult or impossible for the candidate who isn't receiving lavish support from funders with piles of money at their disposal to inform voters of what's happening and make an issue out of it.

For example, Craig Ottavelli raised and reported $20,600 for his Olympia City Council campaign in 2007; two and three days before the polls closed the Realtor's PAC reported that they'd spent $19,221 in independent expenditures doing last minute mailings for him.

Emmett said...

Hey Matt,

That's why I called it "Thurston County" kiss o'death, because the city races were less clear cut. It only worked on the county wide (and commissioner) races.

Matthew Green said...

You're right about that.

It's as if the development community is at least partially aware that they need to disguise their involvement with Olympia city council candidates. Or at least those candidates know it -- none of them ever, EVER talk proudly about their development industry supporters.

But in the county-wide races, apparently, that same development community hasn't caught on yet. They are still living in the days when good growth management wasn't even discussed. And their candidates don't try to hide their developer connections either.

They seem to think the recent angry public meetings about county zoning and impact fees indicate that the majority of county voters oppose these things -- whereas I think that anger is a sign that the minority has realized (consciously or not) it is losing and is trying to resist as long as it can.

Anonymous said...

So let's see . . .

Following that logic then, Obama's supporters that were outraged at Bush and vocal, were only a sign that they were the losing minority?

Just like statistics - anyone can give them the bent they want - so long as they exclude SOME of the facts. Intelligent people deal with ALL the facts - not just theories.

Unfortunately, our current uninformed society is driven by theories, so long as they sound good.

Disinformation and partial truths is what is hurting this once great country.

In the old days of local involvement and smaller communities (without the massively dispersed biased media) - folks knew their candidates, their dirt and their sincerity (or not).