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First-choice votes over amounts spent by campaigns.

In mayor’s race, biggest spenders led the first-choice tally

on November 10, 2010

In one of the most expensive local mayoral campaigns in recent memory, you get what you pay for—at least when it comes to first-choice votes. According to voting and campaign finance data compiled by Oakland North, the distribution of Oakland residents’ first-choice votes in this year’s still-undecided Oakland mayoral race directly reflects the spending by each of the candidates.

According to campaign finance forms filed with the Oakland City Clerk, the four frontrunners for mayor—former state senator Don Perata, city council members Jean Quan and Rebecca Kaplan, and political analyst Joe Tuman—each received first-choice votes in proportion to the money they spent on their campaigns. Perata led all candidates with 32,773 first-choice votes, and also spent the most money. As of October 25, Perata’s campaign had spent $562,985.  That was more than twice the expenditures of the next closest candidate, Jean Quan, who spent $267,900 and finished second, with 23,774 first-choice votes. Kaplan was third, spending $157,143 and garnering 20724 first-choice votes, while Tuman placed fourth, spending $45,680 and receiving 11,957 first-choice votes.

All candidates are expected to have spent additional funds in the final weeks of the campaign.  Details of that spending are not required to be released until next year.

In Oakland’s inaugural ranked-choice election—a system in which voters chose their top three candidates—second and third-choice votes have played a huge role. Quan trailed by nearly 11 percent after voters’ first choices were compiled on November 2.  But when Perata failed to garner over 50 percent of the vote and second and third-choice votes were tallied, Quan vaulted into the lead with 51.09 percent.

Despite a large fundraising advantage, Perata trailed Quan by 1,876 votes in the latest voting results released Friday by the Alameda County Registrar of Voters. Final results in this year’s election have yet to be announced, but if Quan emerges victorious, campaign dollars will not have been the only factor, her campaign organizers say.

“We did a lot of grassroots organizing and walking in the precincts, and that played a tremendous role—and we didn’t buy that,” said Quan spokesperson Sue Piper. “There was definitely an ‘anybody but Don’ sentiment out there, and people made their choices based on their own personal politics.”

Though complete expenditure reports are not due until January 31, Dan Purnell, executive director of the Oakland Ethics Commission, says this year’s race broke the bank. “Since I’ve been here—which spans 10 years—I can probably say, if it’s not past [the record] it’s close to it,” said Purnell. As of mid-October, combined expenditures by all ten mayoral candidates topped $1 million.

David Latterman, president of a San Francisco-based political research firm called Fall Line Analytics, said that the new ranked choice voting system, allowing underdog candidates to compete in the general election, could have been a factor in the increased spending. “I think what ranked-choice voting does is give candidates the thought that they’re more competitive, and that gives them the incentive to spend more money,” Latterman said.

Cost per vote

Cost per vote calculated by dividing total spent by first-choice votes received.

But not all candidates spent as efficiently as others. When reported campaign expenditures were compared with the total number of first-choice votes received, Don Macleay spent the least, at 98 cents for each of his 1,325 votes. Terrence Candell spent the most, at more than $20 for each of his 1671 votes. Perata spent over $17 per vote while Quan and Kaplan were more efficient, spending $11.27 and $7.58 respectively.

Three mayoral candidates have yet to file required campaign finance documents with the City of Oakland. Arnie Fields, Larry Lionel Young and Marcie Hodge have not filed forms to document campaign expenditures of $1,000 or more. If a campaign spends less than $1,000, a separate form may be filed, excusing the candidate from additional paperwork. None of the three candidates has submitted this form, either.  Hodge’s campaign purchased numerous billboards and TV ads but has yet to say how they were paid for.

According to the Fair Political Practices Commission, candidates who do not file the correct campaign expenditure reports could be subject to fines, though none has been levied against Oakland mayoral candidates.

Campaign spending was a hot topic in this year’s race. Quan was among five Oakland mayoral candidates to publicly criticize Perata in September for what Perata’s competitors said was an attempt to surpass the election spending limit of $379,000 set by the Oakland Campaign Reform Act. Under an exception in the act, if an independent expenditure committee spends more than $95,000 dollars on the behalf of any one campaign, the spending ceiling is then automatically lifted for everyone. Perata’s critics said he used this loophole to surpass the limit by accepting a $70,000 donation from the Coalition for a Safer California, a previous client of Perata’s consulting firm.

Spending was also high statewide. The 2010 governor’s race was the most expensive campaign in the nation’s history with Meg Whitman and Jerry Brown spending a combined $188.1 million, a figure that does not include the last few weeks of the election. Whitman spent more than $140 million of her own money on the election and lost to Brown by 12 percentage points.

Latterman said the unprecedented hike in spending also fit a general pattern in contemporary politics. “We’ve seen the spending going up every year for the last several years,” Latterman said. “It’s just the trend in this country to spend more money each year.”

Final results for the mayoral election have not yet been announced pending a complete count of several thousand outstanding provisional ballots, those of voters whose eligibility requires further verification from the registrar. Alameda Registrar of Voters officials have said staff will work through Thursday’s Veteran’s Day holiday if necessary to certify a timely result.

Check out all of our Oakland elections coverage on our Campaign 2010 page.

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Photo by Basil D Soufi
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