Today the Statesman Journal had a story about spending on the races for mayor and four city council seats in next Tuesday's primary election (which usually determines the winner in those contests, since a candidate getting 50% of the vote plus one more vote wins outright and avoids the November election).
The title of the story by Whitney Woodworth shows its primary focus: where the $375,000 came from. But equally important is where the money went.
There are four contested Salem races on the ballot -- mayor and three of the four even-numbered city council seats up for election (Ward 4, 6, 8). Ward 2 only has one candidate, Linda Nishioka.
Each race has a more conservative candidate and a more progressive candidate.
The conservatives are Chane Griggs, mayor; Deanna Gwyn, Ward 4; Julie Hoy, Ward 6; Chris Cummings, Ward 8. The progressives are Chris Hoy, mayor; Dynee Medlock, Ward 4; Stacey Vieyra-Braendle, Ward 6; Micki Varney, Ward 8.
Using the list above in the Statesman Journal story, I totaled up the money contributed to the four conservative candidates and the four progressive candidates. Big difference!
Four conservative candidates in contested races: $272,279
Four progressive candidates in contested races: $96,428
(The grand total is $368,707 rather than $375,000 because Nishioka raised $5,860 in her uncontested race.)
So 74% of total contributions went to the conservative candidates and 26% went to the progressive candidates. Since Salem voters lean to the left -- Obama, Clinton, and Biden won comfortably in Salem in the past three presidential elections -- I suppose it could be argued that most of the local political money tilting rightward helps balance things out.
Still, it wasn't that long ago when a few thousand dollars and a willingness to get paid absolutely nothing to put in long hours and serve as mayor or a city councilor was all that was needed to become a viable candidate.
Now the price tag has risen to five figures, and in the case of Chane Griggs' campaign for mayor, six figures. It's hard to see that this is good for citizen involvement or democracy, but the plain fact is that this is how politics at every level in our country has been moving.
Small money becomes big money which becomes huge money. Intimate local campaigning by a candidate door to door becomes mass mailings/radio and TV ads/paid consultants.
So far, though, from what I can tell there hasn't been much of a relationship between the amount spent on a mayor or city council race and who wins the race. People power can still compensate for money power.
May it always be that way.