State candidates spending more than ever

SACRAMENTO - As the traditional general election campaign kickoff approaches, the Fair Political Practices Commission, California's campaign finance watchdog, last week released a comprehensive report of campaign spending in each gubernatorial primary since the enactment of the Political Reform Act of 1974.Spending has sky-rocketed throughout the years as gubernatorial candidates attempted to secure their party's nomination and all indicators point to the 2010 gubernatorial general election as being the most costly in California's history. While it is not possible to predict how much money will be spent between now and Nov. 2, it may be useful to compare the levels of spending in this year's primary campaign with that of the previous four gubernatorial primary election cycles. The report "Breaking the Bank," found that during the 1978 California gubernatorial primary election, the five major candidates spent a total of nearly $23 million (in 2010 dollars), but during the 2010 gubernatorial primary election, there was a six-fold increase in expenditures when more than $128 million was spent by the three major party candidates running for governor. Spending has accelerated with the increasing number of self-funded candidates who have run for office over the last four election cycles. However; the rate of increased spending has not translated into increased voter participation. In the 1978 gubernatorial primary, more than 6.8 million Californians went to the polls. In 2010, despite the state's dramatic population growth, only 5.6 million Californians voted. "California's politicians are spending more and more money, but they seem to be reaching fewer and fewer voters," said FPPC Chairman Dan Schnur. "There's no question that the arrival of the self-funded candidate on our political landscape has caused the cost of campaigning to go through the roof for all politicians. No matter where our candidates get their money, it's clear that they'll spend more this year than ever before." The report analyzed each primary election since 1978 and found that over the last four elections, only two of the top six self-funded candidates successfully secured their party's nomination. Meg Whitman, who spent $65.29 per vote in the 2010 Republican primary, and Bill Simon, who spent $17.31 per vote (in 2010 dollars) in the 2002 Republican primary. Al Checchi's unsuccessful bid for the Democratic nomination in 1998 was the most expensive effort of all, at $70.21 per vote (in 2010 dollars). This race accelerated the trend toward dramatically more expensive elections when Checchi and Jane Harman together spent nearly $56 million in losing efforts in the Democratic primary. Each subsequent gubernatorial primary has included at least one self-funded candidate. Limits on the amount of money politicians can raise per source have been in effect in California for nearly a decade, but the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that there are no limits on the amount candidates can contribute to their own campaigns. The top six self-funded candidates who spent the most per vote (based on 2010 dollars) include: 1. Al Checchi - $70.21 (1998 Democratic gubernatorial primary) 2. Meg Whitman - $65.29 (2010 Republican gubernatorial primary) 3. Steve Westly - $45.29 (2006 Democratic gubernatorial primary) 4. Steve Poizner - $43.64 (2010 Republican gubernatorial primary) 5. Jane Harman - $29.59 (1998 Democratic gubernatorial primary) 6. Bill Simon - $17.31 (2002 Republican gubernatorial primary) A full copy of the report, "Breaking the Bank" can be found on the FPPC website at

********** Published: September 9, 2010 - Volume 9 - Issue 21