Not all election wins came at a high price
Mail-ballot foes got 3 votes per penny; Senate vote cost $7
By James B. Meadow, Michele Ames And Charlie Brennan, Rocky Mountain News
November 9, 2002
In an election that seemed to feature a never-ending downpour
of money, there was one spot where common sense may have
won out over uncommon cents.
Citizens for Accurate Mail Ballot Election Results spent less than
one-third of a penny per vote to defeat Amendment 28 - which
would have phased out polling places in favor of mail-in ballots -
by a 58 percent-to-42 percent margin.
"We didn't pay for votes because our reach was through common
sense," said spokesman Al Kolwicz, who claims that once people
realized they could already vote by mail they booted Amendment
28. "The voters just used their brains."
Such frugality was not the norm in Election 2002, where two
Senate candidates spent more than $7 per vote, and English Plus
topped $4 per vote to defeat Amendment 31.
Was it worth it?
"Oh absolutely, because we kept a very punitive, very negative
issue from becoming part of the constitution in Colorado," said
English Plus spokesman Steve Welchert.
If the strategy used in Colorado can be recycled elsewhere to
keep bilingual education alive, Welchert reasons, then maybe it is
worth such a high price.
"This wasn't just about Colorado," he said. "This guy (California
businessman Ron Unz who introduced and helped bankroll the
pro-31 campaign) has made it clear this is a national movement
on his part.
"He has won with big margins in three other states. So we stand
alone as the state who broke the code in how to defeat Ron Unz.
Perhaps we can utilize this experience to stop him from spreading
his language terrorism in other states."
The success of the anti-31 forces probably made Pat Stryker feel
better about adding $3 million of her personal fortune - bringing
the total for opposition forces to $3.4 million - to the cause of
preserving bilingual education.
Of course, if a strategy bombs, then it isn't such a deal, which
would be the case with Amendment 30.
The amendment, which would have allowed voters to register on
Election Day, went down in flames by a 61 to 39 percent margin,
leaving Boulder millionaire Jared Polis on the wrong end of the
bargain. At least that's one way of looking at what he got for his
$790,004 donation - which translates to $1.53 per vote.
But eye-popping expenditures weren't limited to amendments.
Backers of Gov. Bill Owens invested $5.2 million in his campaign,
spending $6.23 for each of the 840,331 votes the Republican
incumbent received. Challenger Rollie Heath only spent $2.22 per
vote ($1 million overall), making him the more economical of the
two, although he did lose by nearly 400,000 votes.
But Heath probably feels better than Tom Strickland. In his second
attempt at winning the U.S. Senate seat, the Democratic
challenger spent $4.46 million, which meant each of the 614,534
votes he received cost him $7.26.
Sen. Wayne Allard outspent Strickland by more than $400,000. On
the other hand, the Republican incumbent not only won, but his
cost per vote was a slightly more economical $7.05.
Speaking of the election's cost, Allard campaign manager Dick
Waddings said, "That's just campaign spending."
Although he was not pleased at the outcome, Democratic
strategist Welchert agreed. "Politics is a crapshoot. You put your
money on the table and you take your chance. Sometimes you roll
snake eyes, and sometimes you roll sevens."
Pete Maysmith wishes high-rolling political spending would slow.
"I think we've gotten ourselves into a vicious cycle," said the
executive director of Common Cause. "The candidates and their
consultants and the folks that run the political parties feel, 'Well,
this is what we did last time, so we need to do the same thing,
only more of it - more TV ads, more radio ads, more mailers
stuffed in mailboxes.' And that's unfortunate."
Not that Maysmith was dismayed. After all, Common Cause led the
successful fight to pass Amendment 27, a campaign finance reform
law that will reduce at least some of the political money in
Maybe just as satisfying was his organization's own cost
consciousness. When you do the math, the $163,880 Common
Cause raised to convince 873,493 people to back Amendment 27
translated into 19 cents a vote, proving that while common sense
may be cheaper, Common Cause isn't too bad either.