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Election total likely tops $3 million

on November 16, 2010

The 2010 election was almost certainly the most expensive in Richmond’s history, with candidates and special interests burning through about $3 million in total.

According to the latest set of filings analyzed by Richmond Confidential, corporations and special interests spent at least $2.4 million of the total — mostly to support candidates and measures that did not succeed. Combine that high figure with a low voter turnout, and special interests ended up spending about $104 for each voter who pulled the lever this year.

Although city politicians and officials could not definitively call this election the most expensive in Richmond’s history — no one keeps track of the actual dollar amount spent in each contest — several agreed that spending in 2010 far outpaced any election in recent memory.

Councilmember Tom Butt, who was not up for reelection this year, noted that the stakes were especially high this election season. Voters in Richmond had the opportunity to weigh in on the proposed casino at Point Molate and elect a slate seeking to reduce Chevron Corp.’s influence.

“One of the things that’s particularly interesting about Richmond is that there really are no rich people who live in Richmond,” he said. “So what you’ve got here is a city, on the scale of cities, that’s relatively poor — but extraordinary amounts of money get spent on elections because of the stakes.”

Currently, the final amount spent remains unknown, as the city clerk wades through thousands of pages of filings from candidates and independent political action committees. But a few things are clear from the filings available:

— PACs and corporations outspent individual candidates 4 to 1. Chevron Corp. led the charge, putting at least $1.08 million into the race to support incumbent councilmembers Myrna Lopez and Maria Viramontes and mayoral candidate Nat Bates.

— Measure U was likely the priciest ballot measure in the city’s history. The project’s developers and out-of-town card clubs spent a little more than $1 million fighting over the nonbinding measure.

— Special interests and PACs spent most of their money backing losing candidates and causes. Viramontes, Lopez, Bates, and Measure U benefited from about $1.7 million in independent spending. Furthermore, another $200,000 was spent opposing mayor Gayle McLaughlin and councilmember-elect Jovanka Beckles.

— The Richmond Progressive Alliance slate was vastly outspent. McLaughlin, Beckles, and Eduardo Martinez, who refused to accept corporate donations, only brought in about $88,000 between them. Although the candidates got at least $69,000 worth of help from the card clubs opposed to Measure U, they still trailed far behind Viramontes, Lopez, and Bates, each of whom had at least $300,000 spent to support their campaigns.

— Beckles got the most for her money. Every candidate save Martinez and Harry Singh brought in more dough than Beckles; she raised only $26,000 but came in third. Political action committees spent more opposing her candidacy than Beckles hauled in.


  1. Joshua Genser on November 17, 2010 at 9:44 am

    Like so many news articles about politics in Richmond, Tom Butt is the only person quoted and, so, his pronouncements get published uncritically. In this case, it’s 2 things: that people elected a slate to “reduce Chevron’s influence,” and that there are no rich people in Richmond. If Chevron has ever had a disproportionate influence in Richmond politics, it’s ancient history. Even before the emergence of the “green” and “progressive” movements in Richmond, Chevron had a more difficult time getting approvals for improvements to its refinery here in Richmond than it did in any other cities in which it does business. When it wanted to install hydrogen tanks that would permit it to refine cleaner-burning fuels, it took over a year and a half to get permits in Richmond, whereas it took only a few months to get similar permits in Sacramento. In fact, Chevron has not asked the City for much in which it would have used its supposed influence other than to make improvements to its refinery. Chevron’s “influence” is nothing more than a stalking horse for anti-business candidates. Of course there are wealthy people in Richmond. Richmond has a huge variety of citizens: it’s a big city in a relatively small package. The presence or absence of wealthy people, however, has nothing to do with the elections. Finally, the other thing to keep in perspective is that the winning “slate” won with a tiny minority of votes. The Mayor got only 40% of the votes in an election where fewer than 40% of eligible voters voted, so fewer than 25% of the eligible voters voted for her. To interpret this as any sort of a mandate would be a dangerous mistake.

    • Tim W on November 17, 2010 at 11:20 am

      But note that nearly 60% of voters opposed the casino. That’s probably as close as one will get to a mandate in the modern political era.

      Elsewhere it’s been reported that support for the casino and Chevron’s donations just happened to coincide behind three council candidates. And I think it’s important to realize that this election was most likely a war between the casinos and the card rooms, with others getting caught up in that fight.

      But on Chevron, I hope that Chevron and the new more progressive council can work together more effectively and less divisively. Both should, in my opinion, be protecting the safety of Richmond citizens as well as providing good, safe jobs for Richmond’s workforce.

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