Election's final days saw cash flow freely

Some candidates made final push, others put cash into surplus accounts

By Stevie Mathieu, Columbian assistant metro editor

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Last-minute automated phone calls, fundraisers, bonuses for campaign managers and transfers into surplus accounts were just some of the expenses incurred by politicians in the week leading up to the Nov. 6 general election, and in the election's aftermath.

The spending habits of candidates in Clark County, reflected in the latest disclosure reports, give a glimpse into their diverse campaign strategies. Democratic state Sen.-elect Annette Cleveland, for example, paid more than $2,000 for a company to beef up her online presence -- by maintaining her website and Facebook page.

"Being a first-time candidate and not an incumbent, I felt really strongly that we needed to use all communication tools available to us," Cleveland said.

She also rewarded those who helped her win. She gave her campaign manager a $3,500 "winning bonus," and the Northwest Passage consulting company a $4,000 victory bonus, according to the campaign expense report Cleveland submitted to the state's Public Disclosure Commission last month.

The bonus seemed like a fairly standard practice, Cleveland said, and it helped "all of us stay focused on the end goal," she added.

Cleveland's opponent, Republican Eileen Qutub, spent about $400 on Facebook advertising in the month leading up to the election, according to her latest campaign expense report.

Qutub spent money on automated phone calls — also known as "robocalls" — and spent money on mailers in the week before the general election. Cleveland paid for last-minute robocalls too, and she also bought supplies for a final fundraiser event.

Cleveland won in the mostly Democratic 49th District after receiving about 58 percent of the vote. She'll replace outgoing state Sen. Craig Pridemore, D-Vancouver.

In a more competitive Senate race, state Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, spent more than $21,000 on cable television advertisements, $22,000 on mailers and more than $1,700 on robocalls in the week before the election. He also paid a Boy Scout troop $400 to waive signs on his behalf, bought network TV ads and radio ads, and paid some campaign workers for their doorbelling efforts.

In the week before the election, the Washington State Republican Party also spent more than $7,500 on a mailer in support of Benton, who ended up beating his challenger, Democrat Tim Probst, by just 76 votes.

Probst raised about $145,000 less than Benton during his campaign, and he knew he was at a financial disadvantage heading into the final stretch.

"From day one, we all knew we were taking on an 18-year incumbent who would significantly outspend us," Probst said in a statement reflecting on his campaign.

Within the week before Election Day, Probst spent nearly $4,500 on robocalls, $600 on Facebook ads, $10,000 on cable television ads, and more than $1,200 to repair some of his campaign signs.

In the final days of campaigning, Benton spent more than $87,000, while Probst's campaign spent more than $17,000, according to their PDC reports. That money also includes any spending done after the election to tie up the loose ends of the campaigns.

Cost per vote

Benton spent the most campaign money per vote when compared with the other legislative hopefuls who ran for election in Clark County. He spent close to half a million dollars ($471,000) on his campaign for re-election in the 17th District, and he ended up receiving 27,538 votes. That's about $17 in campaign contributions spent for every vote Benton received.

Meanwhile, Probst spent nearly $12 for every vote received. Combined, Benton and Probst spent more than $794,000 in one of the year's closest legislative races.

In another one of Clark County's tight legislative races, Democrat Monica Stonier spent more than $6 in campaign contributions for every vote she received, and her political rival, Republican Julie Olson, spent about $5 per vote received. Stonier ended up winning the race by just 140 votes.

Campaign surpluses

While many candidates spent most of their resources reaching out to voters, some better-known candidates with less competitive races were left with hefty campaign surpluses.

Representing the mostly Republican 18th District, state Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, placed $20,000 into a surplus account. In the 17th District, state Sen. Paul Harris, R-Vancouver, placed more than $31,000 into surplus funds in August, according to PDC records.

Candidates have many options when it comes to leftover campaign cash. They can refund it back to their donors, give it to their political party, donate it to the state, donate it to charity, reimburse themselves for wages lost while campaigning, hang onto it for a future campaign, or place it into a surplus account. Lawmakers can then dip into their surplus accounts to cover work-related expenses that aren't reimbursed by the state, including admission to conferences or charitable events.

In the 49th District, state Rep. Sharon Wylie, R-Vancouver, put $5,000 in her surplus account, and state Rep. Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver, placed $3,500 in his surplus account, according to their latest expense reports. Following the Aug. 7 primary election, Moeller placed an additional $17,950 into his surplus account, according to PDC records.

State Rep.-elect Liz Pike, R-Camas, gave her campaign manager a $4,000 bonus.

Commissioner races

In Clark County's commissioner races, Republican incumbent Tom Mielke, who won the race, didn't make any significant campaign expenses during the week before the election, according to his campaign expense report, which shows expenses made between Oct. 30 and Nov. 30. His Democratic challenger Joe Tanner, on the other hand, spent a couple hundred dollars on advertising, $600 on a final fundraising event, and paid more than $28,000 on mailers.

At the same time, Republican County Commissioner Marc Boldt spent more than $6,500 on print and online advertisements and more than $11,000 on printing and mailers. His Republican challenger, David Madore, the eventual winner, spent a combined $5,100 for a radio ad, newspaper inserts and robocalls during the final week of the campaign.

Out of the $214,000 Tanner raised in his campaign, $31,000 was his own money and $10,000 was a loan. Out of the more than $331,000 Madore raised in his campaign, $314,000 was Madore's own money.

Stevie Mathieu: 360-735-4523 or www.facebook.com/reportermathieu or www.twitter.com/col_politics or stevie.mathieu@columbian.com