Campaign watchers are expecting Barack Obama to break $1 billion for his 2012 re-election campaign. Some kind of line is being crossed there; the free-for-all that is our national politics may finally have been fully hijacked by big money.
Sadly, the money-wins ethic is invading our local campaigns, too. Last year, we watched the two 6th District state senate candidates, Chris Marr and Michael Baumgartner, come within $5,000 of spending a combined $1 million, according to state PDC reports.
Over the past decade, PDC records show that the cost of winning a seat on the Spokane City Council has risen, too. Back in 2001, Al French won his seat with just a $17,000 budget. Now $40,000 is routine to win the $30,000-a-year position. The cost of winning strong mayor and city council president are even more expensive. Dennis Hession spent $79,000 to win council president in 2003 and $280,000 on a losing effort for mayor in 2007.
Raising money is a requirement to get a candidate’s message out, and often it’s an indicator of future success. Good fundraisers show voters they have real support and can tackle a big project — if you can’t mount a serious campaign, how can you do the job? But it’s that fine line between having enough money and having way too much that voters need to watch.
It’s puzzling to see a mayoral candidate spend double what the job pays in a year, as John Powers did in 2000. But it’s not their money — these are political contributions. So for voters it becomes a question of what people want in return for those contributions, balanced against the character of the candidate necessary to keep those contributions in proper perspective.
We have an exciting campaign season ahead for the City of Spokane, with three council seats, and both the council president and mayor jobs up for grabs — all thankfully nonpartisan, which protects the city from the extremes of party politics. We need to pay attention and vote wisely if we want to protect the relative credibility of our local elections from the excesses of national politics.
I expect that an unprecedented amount of money will be spent this year. We should reward good, clean campaigns. Money spent on promoting a plan for a better Spokane is great; money spent on last-minute smears delivered to your mailbox should not be rewarded. If those kinds of campaigns prevail, then money really can buy elections — even here.
Ted S. McGregor Jr. is the Editor and Publisher of The Inlander.