Money Spent on Losing Candidates and Props Makes a Difference

Labor spent a lot of money to support unsuccessful candidate Wendy Greuel. This still is from a union-backed commercial for her. | Image: Screenshot via Working Californians/YouTube

It is estimated that over $50 million was spent on the May 21, 2013 Los Angeles City elections. Approximately 20 percent of registered voters, or 400,000 people, cast a ballot, meaning that more than $100 was spent on each voter. This should be a staggering amount.

People often ask me if money spent on behalf of losing candidates or losing ballot measures makes a difference. There is a common misconception that money spent to support candidates or ballot measures that were unsuccessful is merely wasted. I disagree.

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Money spent in elections, whether for victorious or unsuccessful candidates and measures, matters. When large sums are spent in political campaigns, even when that money is used to support candidates or causes that ultimately lose, the money changes the issues discussed in the campaign. Take, for instance, the heavy spending by LADWP's union to support Wendy Greuel. She lost, but it help shape the tenor of the campaign debate throughout the last several months. Candidates responded, in advertisements and debates, to the union's stated concerns.

Additionally, heavy spenders can help dictate the issues addressed once a candidate ultimately becomes a public official. Mayor-elect Eric Garcetti is, at the very least, well versed in the needs and desires of the LADWP union, as well as those who supported him.

(The flip side here is that other issues import to less-well-funded groups were not given the same level of attention.)

Further, money spent by those supporting the losing medical marijuana measures, Ordinances E and F, influenced the messaging behind the unsuccessful medical marijuana measure, Prop D.

So to those who ask if campaign money makes any difference when it is spent to support losing candidates or ballot measures, I say, "absolutely."

About the Author

Jessica Levinson is an Associate Clinical Professor at Loyola Law School. She focuses on the intersection of law and government.
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