In 2010, Joe Krovoza, a relative newcomer to Davis politics, was able to win all but one precinct while spending less than $30,000. He did this with a robust network of volunteers who were able to canvass the city. Since then, winning candidates have been able to get the word out and win for sometimes as little as $15,000 to $20,000.
In this cycle, the three likely winners have raised between $15 and $20 thousand apiece (although Will Arnold has for reasons unclear dumped in $26,000 of his own money). Matt Williams has only raised about $4000 but has also dumped in $22,000 of his own money.
Those numbers align well with the $18,000 spent by No on Measure A. But the Yes on Measure A campaign has dumped in a whopping $300,000 – and while that pales in comparison to what the Yes on X campaign spent a decade ago, it still appears to be overkill.
While developers may have a point in criticizing the Davis Measure R system for dramatically increasing the costs of development – in this case, some of that is a self-inflicted wound.
One huge area of spending was the $77,000 given to Spafford & Lincoln. They in turn have hired somewhere around 20 canvassers and precinct walkers. These are mostly young people being paid to walk precincts, and perhaps make phone calls as well. In one sense this effort has paid off, as sources tell the Vanguard that the campaign has identified a sizable number of voters who will be voting yes in the election that they can then turn out to the polls.
On the other hand, even some supporters of the Nishi Gateway project have questioned the value that the campaign is getting for their money. Several told the Vanguard that the canvassers and precinct walkers are not well informed about Davis issues and some have been ignorant of knowledge even about Measure R.
Moreover, instead of creating a community-based grassroots campaign, the strategic tactics here have utilized their monetary advantage – paying canvassers, several mass mailings, etc. But these tactics are a double-edged sword. While the campaign has the clear ability to identify voters and get them out to vote come Election Day, they fall into the trap of becoming a developer-driven campaign rather than a community-based process.
At the same time, the No on Measure A campaign has ironically fallen into a similar trap. While they have $19,000 at their disposal – the same amount as the council candidates for the most part, with a solid grassroots effort that amount might be more than enough to combat even the high spending campaign.
But the No on Measure A campaign hardly resembles a broad grassroots effort either. Only 16 individuals have contributed to the No on Measure A campaign since April 1. That includes $7500 from Michael Harrington, $2200 from James Edlund, owner of Redrum Burger, and $1000 each from Alan Pryor, Don and Nancy Price, Pam Nieberg, Bob Milbrodt and Eileen Samitz. In other words, the core six of the campaign contributed $12,500 and, with Mr. Edlund, seven people contributed $14,700 of the nearly $19,000 raised.
Both campaigns have received money from a total of 18 sources. If Measure R was supposed to bring forth a community-based decision-making process, in this sense it has failed. We have a campaign comprised of the developer spending $300,000 against a campaign of 16 individuals – and really seven – who have put up their own nearly $19,000 to counter that effort.
Just how deep do the campaigns actually go? Looking at letters to the editor and op-eds, there have been some of each – but not the heavy barrage that we would normally see.
While a fair share of campaign signs are certainly up, I was struck driving around a few neighborhoods by the complete lack, or near lack, of signs. Some of these neighborhoods in the past had large amounts of signs everywhere – is that a sign of the changing neighborhoods or a sign of a lack of reach of the campaigns? It’s hard to know.
Earlier this week, the Yes on Measure A campaign sent out a press release that boasted that they had reached 1000 endorsements – that is a tremendous accomplishment. These include all five sitting city councilmembers along with 11 former mayors and councilmembers.
The disappointing part of the campaign is that they were not able to or did not attempt to turn those 1000 endorsements into 100 neighborhood precinct captains.
One can run a professional and expensive grassroots campaign that utilizes scores of volunteers. I know, because 18 years ago, I was part of one as a volunteer. In 1997, Congressman Walter Capps died suddenly, less than a year after winning a hard fought race to represent a district that included San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara. A special election was called for early February, forcing a compressed campaign timeline that included the holidays. His widow, Lois Capps, would enter the race.
The campaign utilized one of the most sophisticated vote by mail efforts ever seen up until that point, whereby hundreds of volunteers would phonebank and precinct walk to identify voters, they would send them vote by mail cards, get them to fill them out and return them, and then vote. It was an amazing effort – there was professional staff running the operations, but the bulk of the work was performed by volunteers. Lois Capps, ended up winning, in part because her campaign out-organized the opposition.
Measure A may well pass – I still think it’s a coin flip and will be close either way – but, by going this route, I think they have made it far more difficult than mobilizing people who live in the neighborhoods to do the outreach. On the other hand, the No on A side did not do this either, in stark contrast to the effort put up a decade ago against Measure X.
—David M. Greenwald reporting