Sunday, December 1, 2013

Davidson Sees More Spending in Recent Election

This is the last in the series on Davidson's recent election season, and it's time to take a quick look at how money was raised and spent.

It's safe to say that this election was probably the last where most candidates go into it intending to spend little or no money.  That is certainly a change for Davidson, but it's not necessarily a bad thing.  It will mean that candidates need to spend more time on campaign finance reports in the future.  But that will also mean that more transparency will be required in how money is raised and spent.

In the past, Davidson candidates almost always signed what's called a Certification of Threshold form at the Board of Elections stating that their campaigns would stay below the legal limit of $1000 eliminating the need for detailed campaign finance reporting.  It was a very convenient way to file since small town elections really don't absolutely require large sums of money.  This cycle started out much that same way.  With only Stacey Anderson and Beth Cashion starting their campaigns intending to spend more than $1000, all of the other candidates, myself included, intended to spend less than the threshold.  By the end of the campaign however, all but Commissioner Jenest appear to have raised and/or spent more than the threshold.  This is based on reporting done by as well as a review of the campaign finance reports on hand to date at the Mecklenburg Board of Elections. 

Here are some interesting highlights:
  • Candidates used consultants (possibly a first for a Davidson election) - Challengers Stacey Anderson and Beth Cashion used local consultants to support campaign marketing.  Commissioners Jim Fuller and Connie Wessner used an Asheville based company to support mass mailings. 
  • received campaign dollars from every candidate in the form of purchased web ads.  The incumbents all purchased individual adds as well as what can best be described as a "team" add featuring all of them.  Mayor Woods also purchased adds endorsing the incumbents.  (An add on DNN runs about $300/month depending on the size of the banner.)
  • The least effective spending?  Commissioner Fuller also purchased a $100 add in the Davidsonian published by Davidson College.  Based on a quick review of the voters from the College zip code 28035 (yes, there is a College zip code!) only 6 college students voted this election.
So the obvious question is why did so many candidates, particularly the incumbents, go into the election intending to spend little to no money, but end up spending more than anticipated?

I can only speak for myself with any certainty, but the logical reason is that it was a closer race than the incumbents expected.  For example the mass mailings done by Commissioners Fuller and Wessner put each of them well over the threshold.  If they intended on doing that from the beginning, they would never have signed the form committing to stay below the spending limit.  For myself, what put me over the threshold was the unexpected receipt of in kind contributions in the form of ads on my behalf when I received the Police Benevolent Association endorsement.   I was also fortunate to receive more donations from supporters than I originally planned.  (Obviously, an unexpected and very nice surprise.)

Some will say that all this is a bad thing - seeing money coming into our local elections as just another sign of a bygone era.  However, in a counter-intuitive way, it may mean more candidates feel able to enter the contests for our elections.  Here's why.

While most candidates did in fact self-fund their campaigns, I proved that a candidate who could not fully self-fund a campaign could still be competitive even as money became a tangible part of the election process.  Yes, I had to raise some money.  However, Davidson is a generous town, and I was overjoyed to be able to raise enough for what I needed.  Could I have raised and spent more?  Would it have made a difference?  "Yes", and "probably" are the best answers to those questions.  Honestly, I think that I ran out of time before I ran out of money, but that's the thing about elections - you always have too little of both.

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