Record Spending Meets Low Voter Interest in CA 'Jungle Primary' Carnage

Record Spending Meets Low Voter Interest in CA 'Jungle Primary' Carnage

Tens of millions of dollars are flooding California races in the 2014 primary election, making this a monumental year in election spending. 

Independent expenditures have ratcheted up to rival 2006, with outside spending of $28.9 million, says the Sacramento Bee, in the wake of new term limits, candidate committee contribution limits, and California’s recently imposed jungle primary system. But reports indicate that another potential record in low voter turnout is making Californians who do cast a vote all the more important.

A slim 20% voter turnout is estimated possible, according to one Sac Bee article. Contributing factors cited include: minimal ballot measures, the top-two primary, a non-presidential election year, and a downward voter turnout trend. In addition, the article points to low turnout as tied to low turnout of Democrat voters. This affects how voters are targeted in the primary in light of the top two primary system, passed in 2010, that allows voters to choose primary candidates regardless of party affiliation.

The Sacramento Bee recently released statistics through May 30 on independent spending in 2014 California elections. Independent spending has reached around $23 million for these elections, much of which has been concentrated in six state legislature races, as well as the competition between Democrats Torlakson and Tuck for the position of Superintendent of Public Instruction. The Superintendent’s race has experienced $4.19 million in outside spending and could yet climb higher.

The California Teachers Association is the major funder for a PAC specifically to support Torlakson for Superintendent of Public Instruction, a PAC that has spent over $2.3 million alone, according to the California SOS. The CTA has also put $600,000 into a PAC that has spent almost $1.8 million to support AD16 Democrat candidate Tim Sbranti and oppose fellow Democrat Steve Glazer.

Other races seeing exorbitant outside spending, according to the Sac Bee, are the 16th, 4th, 70th Assembly Districts, and the 26th, 6th, and 28th Assembly Districts. Each has reached over $1 million in independent spending, with AD16 alone seeing almost $4 million.

Spirit of Democracy California, a PAC funded primarily by Charles Munger Jr., along with various special interest organizations, has alone spent over $1.6 million on this year’s elections. For example, according to California Secretary of State records, this PAC has spent funds of $484,000 in support of Republican Bonnie Garcia, almost half of the $1.03 million total the Sac Bee reported as spent so far in the 28th Senate District race.

Elections spending, including independent expenditures, now often favors one member of a political party over another of the same party. Democrats are attacking Democrats, Republicans are against Republicans, particularly in districts whose demographics nearly guarantee victory by one particular political party. However, we are also seeing races expected to be won by, say, a Democrat, where spending among Republicans is in the millions in order to secure positioning for a candidate expected by many to lose.

Karl Rove told a group of business leaders in Sacramento that “if the Republicans have to pick someone to lose to Jerry Brown, they’d be stupid not to pick” Neel Kashkari, according to SFGate. This race is experiencing millions spent on a candidate expected to lose. Political insiders say it is to affect down-ticket races in an effort to control the direction of the Republican Party in California. Republican candidate Tim Donnelly, the favorite of the GOP base as well as a group of Democrats opposed to Common Core, is battling Neel Kashkari, the establishment Republican.

Californians for Kashkari for Governor 2014, created just May 19, 2014, spent over $240,000 in two recorded mailings to support Kashkari and oppose Tim Donnelly for Governor, according to California Secretary of State records.

Similarly, the Superintendent and 16th Assembly District campaigns highlight Democrat-on-Democrat battle spending. These two races account for a combined $8.15 million of the almost $23 million spent so far in 2014 races, according to the Sac Bee.

Contribution limits passed by voters in 2000 have affected the level of independent expenditures. This leaves candidates having a less obvious connection to independent spending in their races due to rules that are supposed to prevent communication between outside spenders and campaigns.