Mission Driven Campaign Spending

For decades, it was understood that politics was about money; whoever spends the most wins. Getting your message out there was crucial to the mission, the more paper the better. Some compelling data is showing that may no longer be true. 

Stepping into this at state level, consider California ballot Prop 27. Both 26 and 27 began with ads as early as June, saturating possible voters with claims. Prop. 27, (in case you have not already seen a thousand commercials,) claims that the money made from online gambling run by Las Vegas companies will create a windfall that will end homelessness. They have run this so often that it’s working very effectively – against them. 

At a September program of the Los Angeles World Affairs Council, political reporter Conan Nolan of NBC4 stated that data was telling the story; Prop. 27 ads were working against themselves. “We’ve heard this promise too many times, and no one trusts it. Do you want to be able to bet on your team from your phone? Sure, but it’s not a big deal. Do you want to end homelessness? Of course, but this isn’t going to do it.” The combination of overpromising and overspending is looking like the campaign has written its own death certificate. The more often people see these ads, the more convinced they are that it’s bullshit. And it is. 

In the primary election we just had on June 7, 2022, mayoral candidate Rick Caruso spent $40 million dollars of his own money, complemented by another $5 million from the LAPPL, the Los Angeles Police Protective League, to lose to Karen Bass in double digits. The Bass campaign spent about $5 million on the primary. That’s $45 million to come in second, eight times more than the winner. Intriguingly, Caruso did qualify for the runoff, which is allowing him to pour even more of his own money into a race he’s still projected to lose by double digits. 

Why did all this advertising not win the day? Perhaps the day has arrived (finally) when the voters have realized that the more money that is spent on an election, the less likely there is to actually be any positive side for the general public. Candidates run for many reasons, but when you win, you are in public service. That is what government is – public service. 

For years, I’ve been advising my readers to notice who sends the most flyers; and then, don’t vote for them. If it’s a proposition or a candidate, they have too much funding. Keeping the focus in Los Angeles, how many people have asked themselves WHY Caruso wants to be mayor? He could have donated a fraction of all that campaign cash to any one of a number of functional, effective non-profit organizations, and put some measurable mileage towards solving these problems he claims are motivating him. 

The story that we published earlier this week about the jaw-dropping amount of money being thrown at the Culver City City Council race is garnering considerable comment, as it should. But is it saddling those candidates with baggage they should not have to carry? 

I’m reminded of the (no longer) required Fourth Grade Mission Project. How many people still have PTSD from being either a student or a parent who had to live through this state-inflicted trauma of a grade school requirement, we will never know. But in my experience, there was a keen-eyed teacher who sifted out the ‘student completed project’ from the ‘parent built  project’ table by table. Children who did their own homework got more credit than those who happened to be the offspring of architects, building contractors or perfectionists. When you run for office with that kind of money following you around, it’s like having one of those parents who is intent on building the most complete and detailed Mission Project that any teacher has ever seen. If that means your fingerprints are not even on it, oh well. 

Influence and strategy are not always great dance partners. Who gets to lead and who follows needs to be clear, or toes get trampled. 

The Fourth Grade Mission Project is one that has been consigned to the history books. Maybe voters have gotten a bit more clarity on who pours money into politics and why. There seems to be a healthy amount of data supporting that idea. Do your own homework. Figure out who best represents your interests. Vote for candidates, not ads.

Judith Martin-Straw


The Actors' Gang

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