The future of campaign spending

 

Imagine you're one of the 40,000 people in America with a net worth of over $30 million. That's enough to have some spare cash to play with. Why not use it to influence politics? Come on. You know you want to.

Yet, you're faced with a problem. According to analyses by the Center for Responsive Politics, if you are one of the multi-millionaires who threw your money into national races, you didn't get a very good return on investment. Outside spending in the presidential race skewed widely Republican -- yet Obama won. Republicans put $100 million into seven Senate races that they lost. They outspent Democrats in 24 House races -- that they still lost. (Look at this map on ad spending! It's crazy!)

If I were a political consultant, I'd likely tell those one percenters to slack off on national race spending and pony up at the state level. By funneling their money into ballot measures and initiatives in states, they can have influence all over the country! As heavy political spenders take stock of their expenditures, maybe this is what we'll see more of in the next election cycle --  a think globally, bribe locally sort of thing. Because particularly in ballot initiatives, it seems heavy spending was often able to shift public opinion.

Take California's GMO labeling initiative. As of Oct. 1, public opinion was three to one in favor of labeling. By Oct 11 -- and millions of dollars of opposition later, as Mother Jones food blogger Tom Philpott points out -- opinion was split, and "the proposition's slide toward defeat had begun." The opposition ultimately spent $45.6 million, the proponents $8.7 million.

I was interested in seeing if this pattern held true in many controversial ballot initiatives. So I made a chart, with selected initiatives, spending for or against, and their outcome. I chose marijuana and gay marriage in many states because they are initiatives where the electorate seems to be closely divided or shifting opinion. The other initiatives I include in the chart are included because I've either been following them or the results seemed surprising to me.

Items in green are ones where those who spent the most won. Items in red are ones where those who spent the most lost.

There's more to learn from the red rows than the green, I think. In Arkansas, for example, legalizing medical marijuana was never popular. So despite the great disparity in money spent, it was not enough to overcome the fact that most people in Arkansas just didn't want medical marijuana to be legal.

Notably, the spending in Arkansas did shift public opinion, though, just not enough. As of Oct 18, only 38 percent of likely voters supported legalizing medical marijuana. Yet after money poured into the state in support of Issue 5, as it was called, 48.6 percent of the voting public supported the measure on Nov. 6. That's a hefty hike.

The Oregon casino measure is another case in point. A Canadian casino investment group, which would benefit from the casino they would build if the measure passed, poured money into it. But most Oregonians don't like the idea of casinos popping up all over their state. So despite lots of spending on it from the pro side, the measure didn't win.

I'm unsure how to explain the outcome of California's Proposition 34, which would have repealed the death penalty and replaced it with life without parole, but failed. This was despite proponents outspending opponents by an incredible amount, and California's tradition of being a liberal state, where I would imagine most people would oppose the death penalty.

Bottom line: those throwing money into local campaigns seem more likely to be successful, but circumstances do matter. For instance, it seems like spending succeeded more frequently in areas where public opinion is closely split on the topic, or public opinion is relatively uninformed on the topic, and open to messaging, like in California's modified foods labeling proposition.

Some millionaires, obviously, have already caught onto the ballot initiative game. The biggest individual donor to Colorado's marijuana legalization effort was San Francisco-based Internet businessman Scott Banister. (Perhaps he's hoping to toke up legally on his next visit to Aspen?)

It will be interesting to see if money in ballot initiatives, particularly in states like Oregon, that are traditionally low in political spending, changes in the next election.

After all, those millionaires need to put their extra moola into something. Why not your state's ballot initiative?

Stephanie Paige Ogburn is the online editor at High Country News.

High Country News Classifieds
  • FREE RANGE BISON AVAILABLE
    Hard grass raised bison available in east Montana. You harvest or possible deliver quartered carcass to your butcher or cut/wrapped pickup. Contact Crazy Woman Bison...
  • CONSERVATION ASSOCIATE - OKANOGAN LAND TRUST (NORTH CENTRAL WA)
    Do you enjoy rural living, wild places, and the chance to work with many different kinds of people and accomplish big conservation outcomes? Do you...
  • CARDIGAN WELSH CORGIS
    10 adorable, healthy puppies for sale. 4 males and 6 females. DM and PRA clear. Excellent pedigree from champion lineage. One Red Brindle male. The...
  • A CHILDREN'S BOOK FOR THE CLIMATE CRISIS!!
    "Goodnight Fossil Fuels!" is a an engaging, beautiful, factual and somewhat silly picture book by a climate scientist and a climate artist, both based in...
  • DIGITAL ADVOCACY & MEMBERSHIP MANAGER
    The Digital Advocacy & Membership Manager will be responsible for creating and delivering compelling, engaging digital content to Guardians members, email activists, and social media...
  • DIGITAL OUTREACH COORDINATOR, ARIZONA
    Job Title: Digital Outreach Coordinator, Arizona Position Location: Phoenix or Tucson, AZ Status: Salaried Job ID Number: 52198 We are looking for you! We are...
  • DESCHUTES LAND TRUST VOLUNTEER PROGRAM MANAGER
    The Deschutes Land Trust is seeking an experienced Volunteer Program Manager to join its dedicated team! Deschutes Land Trust conserves and cares for the lands...
  • ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT
    The Nature Conservancy in Wyoming seeks an experienced fundraiser to join our team. We're looking for a great communicator who is passionate about conservation and...
  • INDIAN COUNTRY FELLOWSHIP
    Western Leaders Network is accepting applications for its paid, part-time, 6-month fellowship. Mentorship, training, and engaging tribal leaders in advancing conservation initiatives and climate policy....
  • MULESHOE RANCH PRESERVE MANAGER
    The Muleshoe Ranch Preserve Manager develops, manages, and advances conservation programs, plans and methods for large-scale geographic areas. The Muleshoe Ranch Cooperative Management Area (MRCMA)...
  • ARTEMIS PROGRAM MANAGER
    Founded in 1936, the National Wildlife Federation (NWF or Federation) is America's largest and most trusted grassroots conservation organization with 52 state/territorial affiliates and more...
  • ASSISTANT OR ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF ENVIRONMENTAL HUMANITIES
    Assistant or Associate Professor of Environmental Humanities Whitman College The Environmental Humanities Program at Whitman College seeks candidates for a tenure-track position beginning August 2023...
  • ANNUAL FUND MANAGER
    Working closely with the Foundation's leadership, the Annual Fund Manager is responsible for the oversight and management of the Foundation's annual operating fund. This is...
  • DATABASE ADMINISTRATOR
    Looking for someone who loves public land and understands the value and importance of data in reaching shared goals as part of a high-functioning team....
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    High Country Conservation Advocates (HCCA) in Crested Butte, CO is seeking an enthusiastic Executive Director who is passionate about the public lands, natural waters and...
  • ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR OF VOLUNTEER PROGRAMS
    Are you passionate about connecting people to the outdoors? The Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA) is looking for someone with volunteer management experience to join...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The conservation non-profit Invasive Species Action Network seeks an executive director. We are focused on preventing the human-caused spread of invasive species by promoting voluntary...
  • NEW BOOK: A FEAST OF ECSTATIC VERSE AND IMAGERY
    Dynamic fine art photographer offers use of images to raise funds. Available for use by conservation groups. Contact at www.anecstaticgathering.com.
  • WANTED: TALENTED WRITER
    Write the introduction to A Feast of Ecstatic Verse and Imagery, a book concerning nature and spirituality. Contact at www.anecstaticgathering.com. Writer who works for conservation/nature...
  • MT STATE DIRECTOR- THE WILDERNESS SOCIETY
    The Montana State Director is a member of The Wilderness Society's (TWS) Conservation program team who plays a leading role in advancing the organization's mission...