Upward of $8 million spent on vouchers

Becker spends nearly $23 per vote, Buhler $31 in mayor's race

Published: Thursday, Nov. 8 2007 12:00 a.m. MST

How would you like to be paid $31 for your vote in the Salt Lake City mayor's race?

Or perhaps $21 to secure your support for vouchers?

Of course, this is not how democracy in the United States works. Candidates and causes don't buy votes. They raise cash so they can spend thousands, if not millions, of dollars on mailers, TV and radio ads, telephone networks and get-out-the-vote efforts to earn your vote.

And while campaigns, by and large, are less costly in Utah and Salt Lake City than in big media markets in other states and cities, the 2007 election will set at least one spending record: no one can remember a ballot issue that cost upward of $8 million, as the pro- and anti-voucher campaigns did this year.

The Salt Lake City mayor's final race may not have set a financial record, but it was still a very costly per-vote affair.

Ralph Becker beat Dave Buhler in the mayor's race, 64 percent to 36 percent. Private school vouchers were defeated, 62 percent to 38 percent, final but unofficial results show.

Some hard numbers:

• The pro-voucher PICs spent approximately $4 million, in the end receiving just 190,000 or so votes (final numbers statewide have not be submitted to the State Elections Office). That's about $21 per vote.

• The anti-voucher PICs spent about $3.5 million and received 331,000 votes. That's approximately $11 per vote.

• Salt Lake Mayor-elect Becker will end up spending approximately $600,000 for 25,880 votes, or $22.80 per vote.

• And Buhler, who was swamped 2-to-1 by Becker, will probably end up spending $465,000 for just 14,693 votes, a whopping $31.57 per vote.

"I wish I'd gotten more votes," Buhler joked, because then his per-vote cost would be less.

Candidate Buhler and the pro-voucher groups are disappointed in their poor showings. Rarely do competitive candidates or causes lose 2-votes-to-1 in Utah.

In election terms, it was a real shellacking.

For the $31 that Buhler spent per vote, you could buy two pizzas, take your family to a movie, get your oil changed, buy a pair of tennis shoes at Wal-Mart, have a treatment by your chiropractor or buy two Jazz tickets in the nosebleed section.

Campaign finance reform "is an area of great interest to me," said Becker Wednesday. In the Legislature, Becker ran a number of so-called government reform bills over time — which met with little interest from the majority Republicans.

"I don't have an answer now. We do have good disclosure of campaign finance in Salt Lake City. But we need to improve how we finance campaigns. It needs reform and I'll look at," Becker said. The city already has an ordinance on a volunteer limit in mayoral races, but the number is so low no candidates choose to limit their campaign spending.

Buhler said his fund-raising goal was $400,000 to $500,000, and he met that amount. He doesn't know if campaigns can be made less expensive. "It is what it is," he said. He's proud that he had more than 700 contributors, even though he didn't have the number of $7,500 donors (the individual limit) that some of the other mayoral candidates did.

"I spent quite a bit of time asking for money. For the big donors, you have to go and meet them. That's just the way it is, and I got used to it," Buhler said.

In many areas of life, technology has greatly cut costs. But that hasn't been seen in campaigning. True, campaigns can do a lot on the Web. But much of that seems to be better bells and whistles, another way to communicate with just one section of the electorate.

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