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For the fund of it: You can tell a lot by how much is raised and spent on the campaign trail.

Glenn Church embraces a supporter at his primary election night party

Glenn Church, a candidate for county supervisor, embraces a supporter at his primary election night party on June 7, 2022. In the District 2 supervisor race, Regina Gage has outspent Church by about $40,000.

Sara Rubin here, thinking about what $376,909.41 can buy you. In some places (though not around here), it’s enough for a house; it’s more than enough for a couple of super high-end electric cars. In the case of local politics, one candidate is hoping it’s the amount that it takes to win a countywide election. 

That’s the amount Joe Moses’ campaign for sheriff has spent, as of Oct. 22, the most recent campaign finance reporting deadline. He’s spent almost double the amount challenger Tina Nieto has spent ($197,762.72) as of Oct. 22. 

They’re not done fundraising and spending money, and even more campaign expenditures will likely continue to mount after Election Day, which is tomorrow. Since that reporting deadline, Moses has raised at least another $6,000, and Nieto another $11,900. This campaign is already well over half-a-million dollars, not to mention the two contenders in the June primary, who didn’t make the runoff. (Jeff Hoyne and Justin Patterson spent about $166,000 combined.) 

Of course, campaign advertising is a protected free speech platform, in which candidates get an opportunity to share their vision and message with prospective voters. But I cannot help but think there is so much else we could do with money that would actually advance the causes that candidates talk about on the campaign trail.

I like to do a thought experiment: What could you do with a number approaching $800,000 to benefit the local criminal justice system? (Only answers besides campaigning, please. In my quick brainstorm, the list is long: Additional mental health services for inmates at Monterey County Jail; contributions to the District Attorney’s forthcoming Family Justice Center; more court staff to help move cases along faster.) 

Campaign fundraising is not necessarily a proxy for how candidates will perform in elections. In the primary for sheriff, Moses out-fundraised his three challengers combined, yet trailed in second place against Nieto. 

In another county-level election, for county supervisor in District 2, Regina Gage has outspent Glenn Church as of Oct. 22, with $242,399 outlaid compared to $202,633. I remember last spring talking to the candidates for an endorsement interview with our editorial board, when we asked how much they expected to spend on the campaign. Gage answered first: “A minimum of $200,000,” a goal she has since surpassed. Church estimated in the range of $175,000 to $200,000 at the time. And Kimbley Craig, the mayor of Salinas (who is now seeking re-election to that position) heard her challengers set the bar high and jumped to meet it—she quickly led the way in fundraising, with $236,000 in cash contributions before the primary. (She came in third in the six-way primary.)

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Fundraising is, of course, just one piece of a campaign strategy—but many pieces of even grassroots strategy require money. Church is proud of having knocked on over 10,000 doors. (One primary contender, Grant Leonard, told us last spring that he was going to use his largest single donation, $300, to buy shoes to walk and knock on voters’ doors. He was only half-kidding; even door-knocking does take financial resources, and the flyers candidates leave behind cost money to design and print.) 

Besides the actual dollars raised and spent, campaign finance records help reveal alliances—some of which are personal as much as political. Nieto’s contributors include local Democratic Party institutions (Democratic Women of Monterey County), former sheriff’s candidate Scott Davis, construction company Monterey Peninsula Engineering and agribusiness giant Taylor Farms. Moses’ contributors include law firm JRG, construction company Don Chapin Co., and agribusiness giants D’Arrigo Bros and Tanimura & Antle.

In a smaller community like Pacific Grove, the dollar figures raised are much smaller. Staff Writer Pam Marino reports that city council candidate Debby Beck leads the way in fundraising with $14,480 (including loans to her own campaign). 

Will a significant fundraising lead, in Pacific Grove or for countywide sheriff, make a difference in the outcome of the election tomorrow? We will have to wait to find out, but candidates and their campaign advisers are banking on name recognition mattering at the polls. 

Whoever you vote for, please vote—and know that after tomorrow, your mailbox will be a lot less stuffed.

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Sara Rubin loves long public meetings, red pens and reading (on newsprint). She has been editor of the Monterey County Weekly since 2016, and has been on staff since 2010.

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