Domestic Affairs, Revan Aponso
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The Cost of an Election

By Revan Aponso

After an already turbulent year, the state of California recently went through a whirlwind of an election that left the future of the state in question. However, after a landslide 62.2% vote against the recall, California governor, Gavin Newsom, was allowed to stay in power and nothing really happened. However, after months of campaigning and discussions at dinner tables across California, one question was left in everyone’s mind: how much did it all cost?

Despite much of the frustration with Newsom’s leadership regarding his handling of the pandemic, the petition was originally introduced in February of 2020. Back then, much of the frustration was from mostly Republican voters who were irked by high taxes and costs of living in the state despite having the highest homelessness rate. Furthermore, Newsom’s enforcement of California as a sanctuary state for immigrants served as a major point of contention for the GOP. However, the petition didn’t grab traction until  Newsom was photographed maskless at a high-end restaurant celebrating the birthday of one of his top lobbyists in November 2020 when COVID-19 rates were rising and lockdown orders had come into effect. The petition managed to gain 1.6 million signatures, much more than the 1.495 million required to trigger a recall election by June 8, 2021. Officials then had 30 days to write up a budget for the election and another 30 days for the California legislature to review the cost estimates. This brings us to the main question: what was the overall cost of conducting this recall election?

A report from the California Department of Finance estimated costs at $215.2 million on June 10. This figure was inevitably increased after new statutes were introduced to Chapter 34 of the state legislature requiring the gubernatorial recall election to be held as a regular election. As a result, the budget rose to $243.6 million from all counties in the state with an additional $32.4 million requested from the Secretary of State. $9.2 million of the budget was to be used for printing and mailing information with a majority of the budget, and $17.5 million was dedicated to communication through TV, cable, radio ads, billboards, and other forms of outreach. 

A majority of the money involved in the election came through the various donors who helped finance the campaigns of Governor Newsom and the variety of candidates who ran to replace him. At the forefront of the opposition was Larry Elder, a conservative talk show host, who raised $13.9 million out of the $45.3 million in total donations supporting the recall. The largest single donation was from John Cox, a prominent businessman, who donated a total of $9.7 million to his own campaign. However, the numbers put up by those supporting the recall were doubled by donations from those backing the incumbent governor. With over $83.4 million in donations, Newsom was backed mainly by a variety of Political Actions Committees (PACs) which raised a total of $72.8 million along with Netflix CEO, Reed Hastings, the lead single donor who donated $3.1 million with his wife Patty Quillin. Other high net worth individuals who donated in opposition to the recall include billionaire investor, George Soros, George M. Marcus, of the real estate firm Marcus and Millichap, and Stewart and Lyda Resnick, the billionaire couple behind Fiji Water. 

While donors have the freedom to donate their money to the candidate of their choice, the number to focus on is $276 million. This was the amount spent by the California government on an election that turned out to change nothing. Despite following the procedure necessary, the $276 million spent by the government could have been used to combat the many issues, such as homelessness and the rising cost of living, that were used to fuel the recall. The influx of funding received by Gavin Newsom from corporate donors, high net worth individuals, and citizens also demonstrate the influence donors had on the election. Since Newsom received significantly more in donations than his opponents, much of that money was able to be used to convince the states’ democratic majority to go out and vote which in turn allowed him to keep his position. However, while many may see the losses of a number of candidates to be a giant financial drain on donors, the possibility of these candidates running again in the 2022 midterm elections, with the recall election acting as a method to elevate their platform, could be a potential for donors to eventually get a return on their investment. □


Work Cited

  1. Image Source
  2. “Advanced Search.” Advanced Search-Power Search-California Secretary of State,       https://powersearch.sos.ca.gov/advanced.php.
  3. Goldmacher, Shane. “Mountain of Money Fuels Gavin Newsom’s Surge to Recall Finish Line.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 11 Sept. 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/09/11/us/politics/gavin-newsom-recall-election.html.
  4. “Gubernatorial Recall Election Costs.” State of California – Department of Finance, 2021, https://elections.cdn.sos.ca.gov/recalls/dept-finance-letter.pdf.
  5. “SB-152 Elections.” Bill History, https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billHistoryClient.xhtml?bill_id=202120220SB152.
  6. “Track the Millions Flowing into California’s Recall Campaign.” Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Times, 15 Sept. 2021, https://www.latimes.com/projects/california-recall-election-money-newsom-vs-jenner-cox/.Welsh, Nick. “Californians Paid $400 Million Just to Say No.” The Santa Barbara Independent, 16 Sept. 2021, https://www.independent.com/2021/09/16/californians-paid-400-million-just-to-say-no/.

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