These candidates could have won without dropping a dime, and yet they raised millions from special interests— mostly corporations, industry PACs, Native American tribes and, in the case of Democrats, labor unions. The candidates spent hundreds of thousands each, while their opponents depleted their far-smaller coffers on hopeless challenges in districts with imbalanced voter registration.
Where else but the elections racket would an organization blow hundreds of thousands of dollars to promote an already ensured outcome? In the interest of putting things into perspective, CityBeat presents a breakdown of the top five cases of political-spending overkill in 2010 and how that money might have been better spent.
All figures are based on back-of-a-napkin estimates, official candidate disclosures (some are more detailed than others) and brief interviews. In the case of the big spenders, the totals don't include most of the expenses incurred during the last two weeks before the election since those disclosures aren't due until Jan. 31.
1. Nathan Fletcher (R), Assembly District 75
Winning percentage: 60.5
Minimum spent in 2010: $790,630
Opponents' 2010 total: $7,761
Ratio: 102 to 1
The Skinny: By far, the incumbent lawmaker's biggest expense in 2010— $304,000—was for advertising on television and cable. Most political observers interpreted the ad buy as the young Republican's attempt to build name recognition for a mayoral bid in 2012, since he can't carry his war chest over to a municipal race. Fletcher spent $40,000 on campaign literature and $55,000 on campaign consultants and workers, who were mostly drawn from his legislative staff. Fletcher also benefitted from free publicity for being the driving force behind Chelsea's Law and lifting San Diego's Downtown redevelopment cap. His Democratic and Libertarian challengers were mentioned only once in the San Diego Union-Tribune.
The Tradeoffs: Fletcher's expenses could've paid for scholarships for 147 students to attend San Diego State University for two semesters, funded the salaries of 10 police officers, provided supportive housing to 108 homeless people, covered 154 people with health insurance or saved 3,162 dogs (5,270 cats) from euthanasia.
2. Mark Wyland (R), Senate District 38
Winning percentage: 60.3
Minimum spent in 2010: $263,538
Opponents' 2010 total: $4,066
Ratio: 65 to 1
The Skinny: In 2010, the Republican from Solana Beach paid $95,000 to campaign consultants, among them several members of his paid legislative staff. He paid another $37,600 for fundraising events and kicked back another $32,000 to the state party. His Democratic opponent, Gila Jones, spent just more than $4,000, not including the filing fee, which the California Democratic Party paid on her behalf. The libertarian in the race, Kristi Stone, spent nothing, even going so far as recycling campaign signs used by Republican Jeffrey Stone, who lost his primary race for Senate District 36.
The Tradeoffs: Wyland's expenses could've paid for scholarships for 49 students to attend SDSU, funded the salaries of three police officers, provided supportive housing to 36 homeless people, covered 51 people with health insurance or saved 1,054 dogs (1,756 cats) from euthanasia.
3. Marty Block (D), Assembly District 78
Winning percentage: 59.3
Minimum spent in 2010: $1,209,382
Opponents' 2010 total: $55,000
Ratio: 22 to 1
The Skinny: In 2010, this Democratic incumbent paid $125,000 to more than 30 different campaign workers, plus a gang of five consultants, many of whom are also on his legislative payroll. Block spread about $7,000 among various civic groups (including Veterans Village of San Diego and the San Diego LGBT Center) and then spent 100 times that—$706,000—on television ads. His main opponent, Republican Rick Powell, spent about $50,000 and was the only local dark horse to crack 40 percent in the general election.
The Tradeoffs: Block's expenses could've paid for scholarships for 224 students to attend SDSU, funded the salaries of 16 police officers, provided supportive housing to 166 homeless people, covered 235 people with health insurance or saved 4,837 dogs (8,062 cats) from euthanasia.
4. Toni Atkins (D), Assembly District 78
Winning percentage: 59.3
Minimum spent in 2010: $383,180
Opponent's 2010 total: $25,000
Ratio: 15 to 1
The Skinny: This race pitted Atkins, a former San Diego City Council member, against Republican Ralph Denney in a Democratic district. During the course of the election cycle, Atkins spent more than $200,000 on campaigns consultants, $21,000 on campaign materials and kicked over $121,000 to other campaigns, including those who had no need for funds, such as Block. Denney spent $25,000, which also covered a contested primary.
The Tradeoffs: Atkins' expenses could've paid for scholarships for 71 students to attend SDSU, funded the salaries of five police officers, provided supportive housing to 52 homeless people, covered 74 people with health insurance or saved 1,532 dogs (2,554 cats) from euthanasia.
5. Ben Hueso (D), Assembly District 79
Winning percentage: 48.2 (primary) / 57.7 (general)
Minimum spent: $599,720
Opponents' total: $105,782
Ratio: 5.7 to 1
The Skinny: On name recognition alone, San Diego City Council President Ben Hueso was the sure bet in 2010, and yet he spent four times as much as his two opponents in the primary and 26 times as much as his Republican opponent in the general election. Hueso's largest expenditure—$263,000 during the entirety of the election cycle—was paid to campaign consultants, who consisted of a crew of usual suspects to whom Hueso has also tried to steer federal grants or put on the city's payroll. He paid out $107,000 for mailers, campaign literature and yard signs. Hueso also spread $50,000 around to other Democratic campaigns, not including his brother's failed City Council bid—that $25,000 was returned after the potentially illegal donation was caught by the Union-Tribune.
The Tradeoffs: Hueso's expenses could've paid for scholarships for 111 students to attend SDSU, funded the salaries of five police officers, provided supportive housing to eight homeless people, covered 116 people with health insurance or saved 2,398 dogs (3,998 cats) from euthanasia.
Tradeoff methodology: Scholarships include estimated cost of tuition and textbooks for the 2010-2011 school year—$5,376— as calculated by San Diego State University. The average police salary— $75,800 —was provided by the San Diego Police Officers Association. The annual cost of housing plus supportive services per homeless person was estimated at $7,260 in a 2009 Los Angeles County report. The average costs for employer-based healthcare in California—$5,133—came from the California HealthCare Foundation. The San Diego Animal Support Foundation provided the average cost for animal rescue by a volunteer organization—$250 for dogs, $150 for cats.