Opinion: How City Council Candidates Spend Campaign Dollars Says a Lot

The last round of campaign finance reports before West Hollywood’s City Council elections is in, and much of the attention is focused on how much money is being raised and who’s taking money from whom. 

While campaign contributions are an important metric, how a candidate spends his or her money is also a good indicator of how that candidate manages budgets. In a city that spends more than $100 million a year, perhaps we should pay as much attention to campaign spending as we do to fundraising.

Although we love to hate them, the most efficient and effective way to communicate to voters is through direct mail.  It can be targeted to likely voters and, at a minimum, builds Name I.D. in the three seconds it takes to toss it in the recycling bin.

As of Thursday—when the campaign finance reports came out—we’d received or seen 14 pieces of direct mail from candidates.  Lindsey Horvath and Lauren Meister had sent five each and John D’Amico and Marquita Thomas have sent two apiece. 

Meister and Thomas, despite having a fraction of the contributions of the other frontrunners, were spending their money frugally, communicating directly to voters.  Meanwhile Horvath and D’Amico are using their fundraising largesse to fund phone banks and canvassing operations to supplement their direct mail programs.

Despite their raising more than $44,000 and $23,000, respectively, we had not received a piece of mail from either Duke Mason or Sepi Shyne as of two weeks before the election, even though more than 1,000 absentee ballots have already been cast.

First-time candidate Sepi Shyne has spent most of her voter outreach budget so far on video production and online advertising—a risky strategy in a town like West Hollywood. The strategy, however, is one that complements the more than ten thousand dollars being spent on her behalf by unregulated special interest PACs.

So where was Duke Mason’s money going if not to voter outreach?

Campaign disclosure forms are vague on some aspects, but anyone who looks at the spending side of the Mason campaign will notice that, ten days before the election, not much has gone to voter outreach.

The first thing that caught my attention were five line items: $43 at The Abbey. $16 at The Abbey. $15 at The Abbey. $15 at The Abbey. $14 at The Abbey.

Mason has spent $1,390.66 on campaign literature—yard signs and door hangers, while spending more than $1775 on food and beverages.  We don’t know how many voters are at Shutters on The Beach or the SoHo House—two places Mason dined on the campaign dime— but Duke could have sent a mailer to 2,500 early absentee voters for what he’s spent on food and cocktails.

In support of Mason’s $1,400 spent on direct voter outreach, he has paid photographers more than $700 and consultants more than $14,000.

Mason’s donors have also kept him on the move and well-connected, with 147 Lyft rides and nearly $1,050 going to AT&T and Spectrum Cable.

Politicians forget that we, the voters, are the boss. If you were Mason’s boss, would you approve of Mason’s spending if it were on an expense report?

Considering the recent credit card abuse scandals at City Hall, Mason’s use of campaign funds may not rise to the level of Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter, who was criminally indicted for spending campaign funds on personal expenses and family vacations, but it should give voters pause before we cast our votes on March 5.

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3 years ago

Thanks to you all for the critical local reporting. Much appreciated.

3 years ago

I got the mailer John Heilman supposedly sent out, supporting his muse James Duke Mason. Sort of an embarrassment that Heilman would do that. He’s lost all credibility. Imagine, endorsing someone with virtually no experience, who doesn’t have the sense to know not to spend campaign money in upscale restaurants in Santa Monica. Is James Duke Mason unaware that West Hollywood has nice restaurants too? Maybe it’s time for mommie GoGo to throw another fundraiser for John Heilman. He’s HEAD OVER HEELS for her son.

Pet Poodle
Pet Poodle
3 years ago
Reply to  HotMessWeho

Perhaps John Heilman had a pet poodle in mind. Now THAT is something Duke Mason could qualify for….a sweet, charming , social being eager to please but not expected to exhibit critical thinking. There is always time….perhaps Duke could enroll in some of Heilman’s classes and/or get a law degree. I could vote for that.

3 years ago

I recently got a direct mailer from Mason. It went directly in the trash.

Rob Bergstein
Rob Bergstein
3 years ago

James Duke is a very pleasant young man, but it’s a huge leap (at least in my eyes) to go from LGAB to Council. The last few years while he’s served on LGAB and for a time was on the Housing Corporation board, I haven’t seen him at Council or Commission meetings on a regular basis…and that’s the kind of experience I’d be looking for from anyone running for Council….not just sort of showing up in November and announcing. As for his campaign expenditures…well I suppose that once someone’s donated to his or anyone’s campaign, that it’s the candidates to… Read more »

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