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Money isn’t everything in local races

Forking out cash on advertisements, yard signs and other promotional materials isn’t enough to win an election in Park County.

Recently-filed campaign finance reports show that top spenders weren’t always the top vote-getters in the Nov. 6 general election. In fact, several campaigns — including those for local school and college boards and in support of a proposed 1-cent sales tax — came up short despite having a financial advantage.

There was a considerable amount of money spent on 2012 campaigns, apparently more than recent years.

Rough calculations by the Tribune based on Park County finance reports indicate that more than $65,000 was spent on bids for the Park County Commission, municipal Powell, Cody and Meeteetse races and special districts like school boards. Another $12,800 was spent supporting and opposing a proposed 1-cent tax for infrastructure (see related story on Page 3).

Meanwhile, state finance reports show that 17 legislative candidates spent a total of $170,273 between the primary and general elections in five different races to represent parts of Park County in the Wyoming Legislature.

The most expensive race, by far, was Senate District 18.

Senate District 18

State Sen. Hank Coe, R-Cody, and challenger Bob Berry racked up $62,680 worth of bills in their hotly contested battle to represent the Cody, Heart Mountain, Clark, Crandall and Willwood areas.

Their ads and other expenses made the Senate District 18 race the spendiest among the 75 legislative races held in Wyoming this year.

Berry, a Cody bed and breakfast owner and Tea Party organizer, lost to Coe by just 117 votes (2.8 percent) in the most contested Republican primary election Park County has seen in years.

With the results so close, Berry decided to continue his campaign as a write-in challenger. Coe, however, fared much better in the November re-match. Coe picked up roughly 71.4 percent of the ballots, with write-ins — a difficult vote to pick up — accounting for 28.6 percent.

The candidates’ spending didn’t slow when the race moved to the general election.

Between the two elections, Coe spent more than $33,000 on newspaper and radio ads, mailings and a website. His funding came from about 40 individuals ($14,181), political action committees representing various interests ($12,400), the Republican party ($4,000), $1,000 from himself and $100 from a family member.

Berry, meanwhile, spent $29,406 on radio and newspaper ads, a promotional conservative newspaper, mailings, a website and campaign office space, among other expenses.

Berry was the biggest contributor to his campaign in committing $17,672.92, while more than 60 individuals gave $8,975, plus $2,109 anonymously and $650 from the family values group WyWatch.

The second most expensive local legislative race was in House District 50, where a total of $40,497 was spent. Effectively all of that money was spent during the four-way Republican primary in August. Willwood Republican David Northrup won the race.

Some $16,330 was spent in the race to represent the Powell area in House District 25. Again, nearly all of those expenses cropped up in a four-way Republican primary, won by Dave Blevins.

Incumbent House District 24 Rep. Sam Krone, R-Cody, was the only legislative candidate in Park County who didn’t draw an opponent or spend a dime.

Park County Commission

None of the three candidates who vied for two commission seats spent a substantial amount in the general election.

Leading vote-getter Lee Livingston of Wapiti also led the spending in his successful bid to join the Park County Commission. The Republican spent $1,844.94 on mailings and ads in the Cody Enterprise and Powell Tribune in his general election push. That followed more than $10,152.49 spent in the primary election on yard signs, radio ads, an ice cream social and a dinner for supporters. The nearly $12,400 raised came mostly from about three dozen Livingston supporters ($8,320), plus $4,071.80 from himself and family.

Park County Republican Chairwoman Geri Hockhalter said Livingston declined $1,000 in party money.

“Lee was a shoo-in, so he saved us a grand,” Hockhalter said.

Unsuccessful independent candidate Pat Slater of Powell spent $1,642.27 on signs, radio ads, a thank you ad in the Tribune, thank you cards, fuel, campaign business cards and T-shirts. He raised $1,476 from a dozen Powell residents, plus $235 from his own pocket. One of Slater’s supporters, a Powell chiropractor, also gave the candidate a complimentary back adjustment, the finance report says.

Current Commissioner Bucky Hall of Cody spent $1,160.49 on sign and radio ads in the general election, following another $5,478 he spent in the seven-way primary race. Hall’s fundraising total of $7,190 was comprised of $5,340 from just more than two dozen supporters, $1,000 from the Park County Republican Party, $500 from family and $250 of his own money. Hall was re-elected to a third term on the commission.

All told, the three candidates who made the general election ballot and the six unsuccessful candidates in the primary election spent just less than $41,000 on the commission race.

That’s about $6,700 more than what 12 candidates spent in 2010’s race for three commission seats.

Powell school board

There was little correlation between spending and winning in the Powell and Cody school board races.

The three winners in the nine-way Powell school board race — Lisa Barrus, Lynn Stutzman and incumbent Rob McCray — spent nothing.

The only candidates who reported spending money were Raquel Schwab ($173.84) and Todd Voller ($132.24), who each bought advertising in the Powell Tribune.

The 11-way Cody school board race may have provided a lesson on the limited influence of money. Challenger Kent Holiday spent $2,670.95 on his campaign — more than the other 10 candidates combined — and finished in sixth place, 800 votes short of a seat. Holiday had bought yard signs and front-page ads in the Cody Enterprise promoting a three-person ticket made up of himself, David Johnson (who finished seventh) and Lori Riggle (who finished ninth).

In contrast, leading vote-getter and incumbent Stefanie Bell, who finished 500 votes up on the next-closest candidate, reported spending nothing, as did runner-up incumbent Jake Fulkerson.

The winners of the other two open seats, incumbent Julie Snelson and challenger Daniel White, did spend some money. Snelson spent $260 on Cody Enterprise ads and White bought $394.65 worth of yard signs.

Northwest College board

Oddly enough, the biggest spenders in the three races for the Northwest College Board of trustees each lost.

In the race to represent the Powell area on the board, candidate Martin Garhart reported spending $1,314.31 on yard signs, Tribune advertisements, pens and cards. He had chipped in $275 of his own money for the effort, plus $1,080 from 17 supporters. A Tribune analysis of the donor list indicates most of those contributing to Garhart’s campaign were current or former Northwest College employees.

Former board member Jim Vogt, who beat Garhart to rejoin the board, spent $383.32 of his own money on yard signs and a Tribune ad.

Three candidates vied for two Cody-area seats on the NWC board.

Bob Newsome spent $940.60 on Cody radio and newspaper ads, but lost. Fellow challenger Paul Fees spent $643.50 ($117 of his own, $496.50 from two supporters) on Cody Enterprise ads and won, while incumbent Mark Westerhold spent $276.90 on Enterprise ads in winning re-election to the board.

Over in the Meeteetse area, there was little spending. Winfred Orrell Jr. purchased a $25 ad in a Meeteetse newsletter and lost to Nada Larsen, who spent nothing.

Powell City Council

Josh Shorb, a former councilman, bought $150 worth of ads on radio station KPOW in his successful bid to rejoin the council as a Ward 3 representative. Shorb’s opponent, Amber Yager, created a committee called “The Amber Movement” to support her campaign, but reported raising no money.

Unchallenged incumbent councilmen Eric Paul, Jim Hillberry and Floyd Young all spent nothing in getting re-elected.

Though he similarly ended up facing no challengers, mayor-elect Don Hillman spent $521.86 buying yards signs and some newspaper ads. It was all his own money.

In stark contrast, Cody Mayor Nancy Tia Brown spent a total of $14,150 on her narrowly-successful re-election bid, raising the funds from close to 60 supporters. Brown spent roughly $5,691 in a four-way primary and then $8,458 in the general election. Her opponent, Karen Ballinger, spent no money in the primary and $1,789.82 in the general election. The money came from herself ($650), her family ($600) and five individuals or couples ($475).

Despite having Brown spend $4.73 for every $1 she spent on the general election campaign, Ballinger finished just 86 votes (1.8 percent) behind the incumbent mayor.

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2 comments

  • posted by Dewey

    November 27, 2012 3:19 pm

    Citizens United? Doesn't sound like it.
    And that is a very good thing.

    An even better thing is having the Three Busketeers from the Tea Party ( berry, kellett, and DiLorenzo) get trompled into the beet pulp. Money just can't buy that kind of satisfaction.

  • posted by Salty Dawg

    November 27, 2012 1:50 pm

    Why bother,everyone knows the RINO's will win anyway.

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