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How much did Oakland’s city council campaigns spend to win each vote?

on December 1, 2016

For most of the candidates in the 2016 race for Oakland’s city council seats, in which all of the incumbents successfully re-secured their positions, their major challengers spent more to win each vote, yet went home with nothing.

Oakland North calculated the cost of the effort to win each vote by dividing how much funding each candidate spent by the number of votes each candidate received. The spending information was retrieved from disclosure forms required of candidates and the number of votes each candidate received was retrieved from the Alameda County Registrar of Voters website. The number of votes represents the registrar’s final result. The expenditure records showed the money each candidate spent between January 1 and October 22, 2016, a tally just two weeks shy of election day.

We also compared these figures to city council candidates’ spending in 2012, the last time these particular seats were up for election, using expenditures from between  January 1, 2012 and October 20, 2012.

In general, the 2016 city council race cost less than four years ago, with all the candidates who filed their forms spending a total of $612,838, compared to $741,478 in 2012. The campaign spending needed to attract each voter was also relatively cheaper for most candidates than four years ago.

Most of the incumbents spent less money to earn each vote compared to their major challengers. The campaign for challenger Kevin Corbett, candidate for District 1, spent just over $16 for each vote he won, which is around three times what incumbent Dan Kalb’s campaign spent, at $4.89 per vote. Kalb won over 80 percent of the votes in District 1.

A similarly large gap also occurred in the councilmember at-large race. The campaign team for incumbent Rebecca Kaplan, who won the race, spent $2.66 per vote compared to her top challenger, Peggy Moore’s team, who, spent nearly three times as much, at $6.90. Kaplan received 53.25 percent of the votes and Moore got 19.58 percent.

Councilmember Lynette Gibson McElhaney (District 3) is the only incumbent whose campaign team spent more in the effort to win each vote than her challenger’s did. McElhaney’s campaign spent $7.21 for each vote she received, while challenger Noni Session’s campaign team spent $2.02. McElhaney received 58.22 percent of the vote in District 3, while Session received 41.57 percent.

Yet two other incumbents had campaigns that were more expensive than McElhaney’s when priced per vote won. Councilmember Larry Reid’s campaign team for District 7 spent $7.49 to attract each vote, and Councilmember Noel Gallo’s team for District 5 spent $8.73.

Compared to 2012, when same city council seats were up for election, the average expenditure per vote increased from $3.68 to $4.72 this year, largely due to a decrease in the number of voters.

But whether winning a vote was more or less expensive for campaigns this year varies from candidate to candidate. Gallo’s campaign had the biggest change this year, with a decrease from $15.26 in expenditures per vote in 2012 to $8.73 this year.

The expenditures for Kalb’s campaign fell from $6.72 to $4.89 and for McElhaney’s campaign from $7.74 to $7.21. For Reid and Kaplan, their campaigns’ costs per vote rose from $4.67 to $7.49 and $1.57 to $2.66, respectively.


  1. Doug Appel on December 3, 2016 at 12:24 pm

    Did you look for independent expenditure campaigns as well? These are increasingly the conduit for campaign funding for those who wish to evade campaign finance limits. In the school board race, over $700K was raised by just two IE committees supporting the same candidates.

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