Even as gubernatorial campaign spending has skyrocketed in recent years, fewer and fewer voters have been turning out to the polls in state primary elections, according to a study released late last week by the California Fair Political Practices Commission.
The study [PDF] concludes that the increase in independently wealthy, self-funded candidates have driven up the cost of elections (even though those candidates are often unsuccessful), which in turn has forced less wealthy candidates to spend more time raising money.
Not that Jerry Brown knows how that feels.
The study looks at gubernatorial primaries from 1978 to 2010. During that time, it was actually former Northwest Airlines executive Al Checchi – not Meg Whitman – who spent the most per primary vote. Checchi spent $70.21 per vote in his ultimately failed Democratic bid in 1998, whereas Whitman spent $65.29 this year.
Bucking the trend, Brown actually spent less per vote during primary season this year than he did in 1978, even when adjusted for inflation. In 1978, when he also ran unopposed, Brown spent $1.77 (in 2010 dollars) per vote. This year, he spent just 38 cents per vote after running San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom out of the race last fall without even firing a shot.
All that despite more people voting in the 1978 primaries – about 6.8 million – than this year's, when 5.6 million cast ballots.
All told, more than a half-billion dollars (inflation-adjusted) has been spent on gubernatorial primaries since 1978, with nearly half of that amount being spent in the last four years.