Did big money buy the elections?

Posted by Ralph Schwartz on November 6, 2013 

It's debated, even in this newsroom, just how big a factor money is in elections. The Koch brothers struck out mightily in their 2012 bid to unseat Barack Obama.

"Money doesn't buy elections. Money buys advertising," my colleague John Stark likes to say.

The argument that not-so-intelligent voters do whatever the TV ads tell them to do smacks of elitism, Stark has maintained on this blog. 

A strong case can be made, however, for money buying the I-522/GMO labeling vote. As of Monday, the No on I-522 campaign had taken in three times the amount of money as the "Yes" folks, $22 million to $7.7 million:

 

 

Contributions from Interests Supporting I-522

Total Raised: $7.7 million
RankContributor nameTotal
1 DR. BRONNER'S MAGIC SOAPS $1,840,635
2 CENTER FOR FOOD SAFETY ACTION FUND $455,000
3 MERCOLA.COM HEALTH RESOURCES LLC $300,260
4 ORGANIC CONSUMERS ASSOCIATION $298,076
5 PRESENCE MARKETING, INC $260,000
6 PCC NATURAL MARKETS $230,274
7 NATURE'S PATH FOODS USA INC $178,700
8 FOOD DEMOCRACY NOW $175,000
9 WASHPIRG $168,121
10 WEILAND WILLIAM T. $150,000

 


Contributions from Opposing Interests 

Total Raised: $22.0 million
RankContributor nameTotal
1 MONSANTO $5,374,484
2 DUPONT PIONEER $3,880,159
3 PEPSICO $2,352,966
4 NESTLE USA $1,528,206
5 THE COCA-COLA COMPANY $1,520,351
6 GENERAL MILLS INC $869,271
7 CONAGRA FOODS $828,251
8 DOW AGROSCIENCES LLC $591,654
9 BAYER CROPSCIENCE $591,654
10 BASF PLANTSCIENCE $500,000

 

 

On I-522, NPR did a report suggesting that money indeed was the deciding factor. NPR interviewed Stuart Elway, whose polls showed I-522 drop from 66 percent in favor into a statistical tie with the "no" side:

"Elway says on an issue that voters aren’t that familiar with, ads have far more sway.

It may be tempting to view this vote as a referendum on GMO, or on how we view our food, or science versus the natural order. But Daniel Fagin, a professor of science journalism at New York University, says the outcome will say more about campaign funding and politics."

Currently, "No" leads "Yes" on I-522 55 to 45 percent.

The four progressive candidates who appear to have swept into the Whatcom County Council also had a money advantage. They spent more as candidates; Rud Browne, Barry Buchanan, Ken Mann and Carl Weimer spent a combined $308,305 on their races. The conservatives, Kathy Kershner, Bill Knutzen, Ben Elenbaas and Michelle Luke, spent $150,557 total, according to the Public Disclosure Commission. 

I'm still working on a grand total of money spent on the campaign by all players, but just to compare the two major independent PACs that competed -- Save Whatcom for the conservatives, and Washington Conservation Voters for the progressives -- the winning side again had about a 2-to-1 advantage in spending. WCV spent $279,000 as of Tuesday, and Save Whatcom had spent $141,000.

But there's plenty of reason to attribute the County Council sweep to factors other than money. The sheer number of volunteers on the side of Browne, et al., seems to have had a significant impact.

"We had a better ground game," local Democrat Lisa McShane said in a post-election interview this morning. "We had hundreds and hundreds of people giving their time because they care a lot about the impact the County Council has."

"And they didn't care about campaign money," Whatcom Dem Chairman Mike Estes said.

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