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UW Election Eye 2012

Campaign 2012 through the eyes of UW faculty and students

May 17, 2012 at 6:30 AM

Gubernatorial candidates, especially Rob McKenna, spending campaign dollars out of state

Democrat Jay Inslee and Republican Rob McKenna have spent almost the same amount so far on their campaigns for governor. But differences in the way they spend just might give us a clue as to who will win in November, and how they’ll run our state.

(Graphic by Betsy Hauenstein/UW Election Eye)

Politics is a money game.  The candidate with the most cash usually wins, but in Washington state’s gubernatorial race, the two main candidates are almost neck and neck in terms of fundraising. There’s no sign that this tight race will let up before November, so what matters most is how they choose to spend that money.

Thanks to the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission (PDC), we get an idea of where the money is going.

The graphics above categorize all of the expenses listed on the PDC website for the Rob McKenna (R) and Jay Inslee (D) campaigns. The more than 1,000 expense entries for each campaign provide a glimpse into each candidate’s campaign approach.

The numbers tell two stories: one about new technologies, one about an old truism.

Story One is about traditional advertising. Approaches such as direct mailing, yard signs and telephoning are obviously a big expense for both campaigns. But McKenna and Inslee are taking two different approaches when it comes to embracing new technological avenues.

McKenna has gotten an earlier start — he’s spent about $300,000 more than Inslee on advertising so far — and he has invested a much larger percent of that money on digital advertising. The Inslee campaign has paid about $3,000 for online advertising through Google, Yahoo and Facebook, while the McKenna campaign has spent more than $10,000 on Facebook advertising alone, and more than $75,000 on online ads overall.

Screenshot of the Rob McKenna campaign's free mobile app.

McKenna’s campaign also leads on the digital front with its free mobile app that a Bend, Ore. business developed for $1,100 earlier this year. McKenna’s mobile app features campaign videos and photos, links to his blog and Facebook page, and the capability for users to donate directly to the campaign. This kind of integration between politics and technology is a strategy that Charles McCray, McKenna’s communications director, says the campaign committee is “really proud of.”

This is the same kind of digital integration that some say helped Barack Obama win the 2008 presidential election.

There’s no way to put it lightly – in regards to utilizing new technology, the Inslee camp is lagging. But according to Sterling Clifford, Inslee’s communications director, the campaign has a pretty aggressive new media and digital outreach strategy that they just haven’t unveiled yet.

“We haven’t spent a lot of money on advertising of any kind yet,” Clifford said. “So it’s not that we’re not spending money on online ads, it’s just we’re not at the point where we need to pay for advertising.”

But this leads us to Story Two. McKenna’s campaign is ahead when it comes to embracing technology, but it is trailing in following the adage that all politics is local. It isn’t for either candidate, and especially not for the Republican in this race.

Specifically, both Inslee and McKenna are using their fair share of traditional outreach, largely in the form of old-fashioned direct mailing. Inslee so far has paid a local Kent business about $240,000 for these mailing services, whereas McKenna has paid out $550,000 to a company located in Minnesota.

(Graphic by Betsy Hauenstein/UW Election Eye)

That’s a quarter of his total spending so far, and it seems like a risky move for a candidate running on a platform of improving our state’s economy and creating jobs.

McCray said otherwise. “In the grand scheme of things,” he said, “Rob spending that money in another state, that’s not going to tip the scales on our employment problem.”

It may not have made even a tiny dent in our state’s unemployment woes, but there’s no question that there are some Washington companies that would have been happy to add that $550,000 to their annual revenue.

Inslee’s campaign isn’t innocent of taking funds out of state, either. Roughly half of Inslee’s $370,000 worth of consulting expenses went to companies outside of the Evergreen State, while only 6% of McKenna’s $225,000  in consulting fees left the state.

“We used an open bidding process for all of those responsibilities,” Clifford said of the Inslee camp’s out of state spending, “and we made the selection based on the companies that best fit our needs at the moment and who best met the needs of the campaign.”

Both candidates have also outsourced telephoning services, research, and their website designs to other states. Combined, these expenses represent another $400,000 that could have provided our state a modest economic boost.

Notably, campaign money crossing state borders is not a new concept, as the recall election in Wisconsin, where millions have been raised and spent, has demonstrated.

At least for now, it’s up to Inslee and McKenna to sell themselves to Washington voters. Thanks to transparency and access provided by the PDC, we can watch every step of how they spend their money.

Comments | More in State | Topics: advertising, campaign funds, Election 2012

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