Candidates’ Finance Reports Reveal Expensive Council Election

Tuesday, December 8, 2015, 4:36 pm
By: 
Chris Root

Image: The six candidates: top row, Erik Altmann, Shanna Draheim, Mark Meadows; bottom row, Steve Ross, Jermaine Ruffin, Nathan Triplett.

More than $112,000 was spent in total by the candidates in the very costly November election for East Lansing City Council, according to post-election financial statements filed last week. And this amount does not include the cost of unprecedented involvement in an East Lansing election by the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Nathan Triplett, the only candidate who ran as an incumbent, spent $51,831 on his campaign, considerably more than any other City Council campaign in memory and far more than any other candidate in this race. Despite the high spending, Triplett came in fourth among the six candidates and therefore lost his bid for one of the three seats in play.

Triplett’s campaign spending was more than two-and-a-half times that of any other candidate in the race, and it accounted for approximately 45% of the total spending reported by all six candidates. By contrast, Triplett spent $12,859 on his last campaign for Council in 2011, meaning that Triplett spent four times as much on his 2015 campaign as he did on his previous one.

Spending by the six City Council candidates varied widely, between $51,831 spent by Triplett and $8,115 spent by Steve Ross, as shown in the table below.

Spending by Candidates on 2015 East Lansing City Council Race

Candidate

Cash expenses

Outstanding debt

Adjusted

total expenses

Nathan Triplett

$51,830.82

$0.00

$51,830.82

Shanna Draheim

$20,047.63

$1,026.60

$21,074.23

Jermaine Ruffin

$8,701.34

$5,684.05

$14,385.39

Erik Altmann

$14,501.97

$0.00

$12,501.97

Mark Meadows

$9,321.65

$613.12

$8,934.77

Steve Ross

$8,115.00

$0.00

$8,115.00

“Adjusted total expenses” in this table reflect two adjustments.

One, which is shown in the table, is adding to “cash expenses” any debt identified in the final campaign reports as not having been forgiven (“outstanding debt”). As shown above, three candidates ended with debt:

  1. Jermaine Ruffin ended his campaign with $5,684 owed to the communications firm Change Media Group. This amount significantly exceeds his campaign committee’s $74 asset balance as of November 23.
  2. Shanna Draheim’s $1,027 debt is owed to Keystone Millbrook, and her committee’s asset balance is $122. (Keystone Millbrook does printing, mailing, and digital media work.)
  3. Mark Meadows’ debt of $613 is owed to himself, and his committee’s asset balance is $1,910, meaning his campaign can, without further fundraising, pay off its debt. (Meadows can also opt to forgive the campaign’s debt to himself.)

The second adjustment I made to expenses is to account for loans or donations that were reported as income but were repaid and thus reported as expenditures. While this procedure is required by campaign finance reporting rules, it does not meaningfully reflect actual spending on campaign activities. Therefore, I subtracted from Altmann’s expenses the repayment of a $2,000 loan by Erik Altmann to himself, and from Meadows’ expenses I subtracted the repayment of a $1,000 contribution to a donor that was returned by Mark Meadows. (That donor was Michelle McManus of Bridgewater Circle in East Lansing.)

Not only was the total amount spent by candidates in this race unusually high for an East Lansing election, but a large, additional amount was spent by the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce (LRCC). Campaign finance laws do not require the Chamber to report the cost of these activities, which were legally considered ”educational” so East Lansing citizens will never know how much actually was spent on this race. As we reported here and here, during the last week of the election, the LRCC sent six color mailers to selected voters, three mailings attacking Altmann, two supporting Draheim, and one supporting Draheim, Triplett, and Meadows. The LRCC also supported these three candidates in a full-page, color ad in the Towne Courier the Saturday before the election and paid for campaign robocalls to many households on the Monday before the election. Local campaign experts tell us these expenses would have reached into the five-figure range.

In this East Lansing city election, high spending did not correlate with electoral success, as we can see here:

Ranking of Candidates by Votes Received Compared to Spending

Candidates

Rank by votes received

Rank by total spending

Rank by spending per vote

Winning Candidates

 

 

 

 

Mark Meadows

1

6

6

 

Shanna Draheim

2

3

3

 

Erik Altmann

3

4

5

Losing Candidates

 

 

 

 

Nathan Triplett

4

1

1

 

Steve Ross

5

5

4

 

Jermaine Ruffin

6

2

2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This table (above) shows the ranking of both how much candidates spent overall (third column from left) and how much they spent in relationship to the number of votes they received (fourth column). Clearly, spending more did not mean success in this race, and spending less did not mean failure.

The details of candidates’ spending per vote are shown in the table below, using both total unadjusted and adjusted expenses. Voters could vote for up to three candidates in this election, and not everyone used all their votes. Campaign expenses are compared to the number of votes received.

Candidates’ Expenses Compared with Votes They Received

 Candidate

Votes

Percent of voters voting for

Expenses per vote received

Adjusted expenses per vote received

Mark Meadows

2,821

66.4%

$3.30

$3.17

Shanna Draheim

2,239

52.7%

$8.95

$9.41

Erik Altmann

2,212

52.1%

$6.56

$5.65

Nathan Triplett

1,955

46.0%

$26.51

$26.51

Steve Ross

1,339

31.5%

$6.06

$6.06

Jermaine Ruffin

934

22.0%

$9.32

$15.40

Number of voters

4,246

 

 

 

Number of votes cast

11,500

 

 

 

 

Meadows, who has now been elected by the new Council as Mayor, received the most votes while spending the least amount per vote he received. He had high name recognition in the community, as both former mayor and former Representative of this area in the Michigan House.

Triplett, the incumbent mayor, was also well-known to voters, but neither name recognition nor high campaign spending were sufficient to bring him success in this race.

How did the candidates spend their campaign funds? Much was spent on traditional campaign expenses: printing fliers and mailers, purchasing mailing labels of selected likely voters, postage for mailings, yard signs (all candidates except Ross used yard signs), website design and/or hosting, and fundraisers and election-night gatherings with supporters. Several candidates also bought advertising on Facebook and elsewhere on the Internet.

The Campaign to Elect Nathan Triplett provides less detail about campaign expenses in the final report compared to the others. His campaign spent $45,972 with the consulting firm Change Media Group, expenses identified variously for consulting, website, printing, mail, postage, signs, digital media, and digital ads. Of this, $22,707 was spent in the last reporting period (from October 19 to November 23) for “consulting/mail.” No additional information is provided about how this amount was spent. Presumably, it included the cost of the telephone poll (conducted by people, not robocalls) during the last week of the election which is not reported separately in his disclosure.

One final note: After the election, a reader of ELi asked whether it was the case that Altmann, Draheim, and Meadows won because their last names made them appear first on the ballot due to alphabetical order. However, the candidates’ names were not presented alphabetically on the ballots. According to City Clerk Marie Wicks, “candidates’ names are rotated on ballots so that no one is favored” by alphabetical order.

 

This ELi report has included information about total income, debt, and expenses of the six candidates. We’ll be bringing you a separate final report on the donors to each of the campaigns, updating what we provided in our last pre-election report.

 

 

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