Campaign 2013: Who spent what

2013 Wellington City Council campaign expense returns are now online and they make for very interesting (and at times despairing) reading.

Mayoral and city council candidates spent $468,991.05 trying to get elected with an average campaign costing $9,195.90. Successful candidates spent $203,808.63 with an average of $13,587.24.

Of course these figures blur the extremes – at both ends of the scale – so we’ve broken the numbers down by each candidate to find out just how much they spent and how much each vote won cost them.

NB: We’ve done our best to make sure the figures are correct, but if there are any mistakes, please let us know and we will correct them.

Below are the total declared expenses by each ward and mayoral candidate:

Unsurprisingly the two leading mayoral candidates, Wade-Brown and Morrison, both spent the most, with Wade-Brown spending slightly more on her way to victory.

At the other end of the scale, 7 candidates (Reagan, Stephen, Wilson, Appleby, Coffey, MacRae, and Holmes) spent nothing – not surprising considering their invisible presence and campaigns anywhere outside the official candidate blurbs.

Of the 3 Green candidates, David Lee spent the most racking up $17,251 to win the second Southern Ward seat, while Sarah Free spent $9,784 to win in the Eastern Ward and Iona Pannett spending $8,016.18 to top the Lambton Ward.

A more interesting look is to breakdown how much each vote cost a candidate:

Of all candidates, Ray Ahipene-Mercer and Jo Couglan spent the least per vote won ($0.62) while Don McDonald somehow managed to spend the most ($53.91) per vote.

It really goes to show that throwing money at a campaign doesn’t translate into votes :-).

Sridhar Ekambaram, a vocal supporter of Wade-Brown, seemingly hasn’t bothered to do a return, which is disgraceful. Even Leonie Gill managed to file a return, despite being deceased. (Well done to her friend and unsuccessful regional council candidate, Daran Ponter, for doing this).

Trawling through the returns it’s amazing how many candidates didn’t think their nomination fee was an election expense and how many – including Celia Wade-Brown – declared donations under $1500 (including a $5 donation) despite not being asked to or legally required.

The amount of poorly completed and varying formats of expense returns Wellington City Council accept is ridiculous. Helene Ritchie’s spanned 26 pages of copies of invoices and receipts while Jo Coughlan submitted one invoice for fliers as her only expense. The whole thing is a farce.

Taking the average of these, it gives us a successful cost per vote of $3.66 – slightly more than the average of $2.50 in 2010, but more in line with reality than the graph before.

As with 2010 incumbent candidates’ profiles allowed them to spend very little to win, with the highest spending successful candidates being first time candidates seeking name recognition and visibility. All spent more per vote than every successful incumbent other than Paul Eagle (blanketed his Ward with hoardings) and Helene Ritchie (desperately vulnerable).

Nicola Young spent the most per vote out of all successful candidates clocking in at $12.86 per vote. She spent almost double what fellow first timer Mark Peck did and won only around 200 more votes.

Her shift to a “mayoral” campaign in addition to her Lambton race allowed her to blow the campaign limit for a Ward seat ($30,000) which seems to have saved her. Her expenses also conveniently almost match the amount of donations she declared, including one from herself. While she was ultimately successful, you have to wonder what sort of poorly targeted campaign she was running to rack up that amount of expenses.

Below are the individual expenses and donation breakdowns of each race:


Expenses Donations Votes Per Vote
Celia Wade-Brown $56,986.12 $4,205.00 27171 $2.10
John Morrison $55,004.43 $20,359.00 24691 $2.23
Jack Yan $17,811.18 $10,200.00 9996 $1.78
Nicola Young $32,400.09 $31,443.84 5108 $6.34
Rob Goulden $1,980.57 $180.00 2607 $0.76
Karunanidhi Muthu $14,093.59 $0.00 935 $15.07

Mayoral total: $178,275.98, average: $29,712.66.

Celia Wade-Brown and John Morrison’s spent almost the same amount, with Morrison hauling in more donations, both anonymous and declared. Wade-Brown’s poor level of donations compared to her competitors is interesting.

Jack Yan once again ran a relatively cheap campaign despite having many billboards, flash online media and glossy print material.

Nicola Young’s donation haul is impressive, especially considering it her barely registered mayoral campaign was dwarfed the more higher profile right-wing challenge by John Morrison. Her mid-campaign switch to a dual ward and mayoral race certainly saved her political career.

Karunanidhi Muthu probably could have spent half what he did and still get the same or better result. A complete waste of money on two races. His campaign GiveALittle page is still live and lists donations of around $2500.

Southern Ward

Expenses Donations Votes Per Vote
Paul Eagle $13,466.06 $0.00 3626 $3.71
David Lee $17,251.00 $0.00 2336.43 $7.38
Ginette McDonald $4,334.74 $0.00 2235.1 $1.94
Bryan Pepperell $1,751.00 $0.00 961.62 $1.82
Will Moore $4,332.36 $4,332.36 618.31 $7.01
Brent Pierson $3,561.00 $0.00 409.06 $8.71
Don McDonald $7,422.37 $0.00 137.67 $53.91

Ward total: $52,118.53, average: $7445.50.

Ginette McDonald only spent $4,334.74 and finished 100 votes shy of beating Lee. A little more spending (or smarter spending) by McDonald could have seen her claim the second seat over Lee.

David Lee can thank Labour’s Paul Eagle for getting him across the line through Eagle’s cooperation, support and not so subtle endorsement – something Eagle may live to regret considering McDonald was effectively soft Labour, and with Lee showing signs of being one of their more right wing/grandstanding Councillors.

Paul Eagle has effectively allowed the Greens to establish themselves in the South for the first time since Celia Wade-Brown last won in 2007. I don’t know what he was thinking.

Will Moore received a convenient donation from his father that magically covered all of his campaign expenses.

Pepperell must have seen the writing on the wall, or the fluoride in the water, that his time was up and barely spent anything.

Don McDonald somehow managed to spend $7,422.37 ($53.91 per vote) despite an effectively invisible campaign and no realistic chance of victory. Add in the council’s $20,000 mail-out correcting a typo in his name on voting forms and McDonald is responsible for nearly $30,000 of election spending.

Eastern Ward

Expenses Donations Votes Per Vote
Simon Swampy Marsh $6,187.80 $0.00 2752 $2.25
Ray Ahipene-Mercer $1,670.00 $0.00 2705.69 $0.62
Sarah Free $9,784.00 $4,880.14 2659.68 $3.68
Leonie Gill $2,558.10 $0.00 2322.76 $1.10
Rob Goulden $1,980.57 $180.00 1202.78 $1.65
John Coleman $15,735.61 $8,270.00 849 $18.53
Karunanidhi Muthu $14,093.59 $0.00 637 $22.12
Va’ai Va’a Potoi $2,361.75 $0.00 359 $6.58
Graham McCready $1,495.42 $1,495.42 239 $6.26
Peter Kennedy $5,757.25 $0.00 161 $35.76

Ward total: $61,624.09, average: $6,162.41.

Sarah Free ran a surprisingly efficient campaign (almost half the amount David Lee spent) for a first time candidate with campaign expenses significantly lower than many other successful candidates. She also hauled in the donations. Her cost per vote is almost exactly the same as the successful candidates’ cost per vote average.

Ray Ahipene-Mercer’s return demonstrated the power of name recognition and incumbency, barely writing a cheque to win.

Simon Marsh topped the ward with a below average cost per vote spend. He will be pleased.

John Coleman, Peter Kennedy both flushed money away while Karunanidhi Muthu’s dual ward and mayoral campaign didn’t do him any favours.

Northern Ward

  Expenses Donations Votes Per Vote
Justin Lester $2,980.41 $0.00 3841 $0.78
Malcolm Sparrow $9,538.28 $0.00 3039.6 $3.14
Helene Ritchie $12,515.99 $0.00 2759.87 $4.53
Peter Gilberd $27,171.42 $12,500.00 2732.49 $9.94
Reagan Cutting $0.00 $0.00 906.03 $0.00
Jacob Toner $2,253.03 $0.00 378.63 $5.95

Ward total: $54,459.13, average: $9,076.52.

Peter Gilberd’s campaign return is especially fascinating. He not only spent one of the highest amounts, but he received a $12,500 donation from Celia Wade-Brown’s husband. Both he and Wade-Brown also used the same advertising/printing company and his $12,500 donation matches the amount he spent on bus advertising. Was Peter Gilberd a sleeper candidate for the Green-bloc? If I spent $27,000 and still lost to Helen Ritchie by 30ish votes I would be furious.

Now Deputy Mayor Justin Lester once again expended little ($0.78 per vote) to get elected and topped the ward again.

Helene Ritchie clearly knew she was in trouble and spent the most per vote of any incumbent candidates ($4.53) and overall total of any successful incumbent councillor.

Lambton Ward

  Expenses Donations Votes Per Vote
Iona Pannett $8,016.18 $0.00 3430 $2.34
Nicola Young $32,400.09 $31,443.84 2518.94 $12.86
Mark Peck $17,577.84 $1,500.00 2388.4 $7.36
Rex Nicholls $6,555.00 $0.00 1949.91 $3.36
John Dow $16,959.41 $0.00 1044.62 $16.24
John Woolf $3,225.89 $0.00 789.37 $4.09
Jennifer Stephen $0.00 $0.00 601.29 $0.00
Mark Wilson $0.00 $0.00 442.24 $0.00
Michael Appleby $0.00 $0.00 390.59 $0.00
Stephen Preston $1,231.71 $0.00 313.54 $3.93
Milton Hollard $1,303.80 $0.00 139.72 $9.33

Ward total: $87,269.92, average: $7,933.63.

Again, Nicola Young’s path to Council was expensive and she would have blown the $30,000 spending limit had she not also run for mayor.

Overall Mark Peck spent only a little more than John Dow, but got elected – and at less than half the cost per vote of Dow. He will be happy with his result given he had zero profile to start with in Wellington. He (and other successful first time candidates) should spend much less on their reelection in 2016 if they stand again.

Jon Dow’s return isn’t a surprise given how many billboard and advertising he had. But it goes to show that that alone doesn’t work. You need people on the ground making voter contact like Peck, Pannett and Young did frequently throughout the campaign.

Iona Pannett ran a efficient campaign spending well under the average cost per vote.

3 candidates didn’t do anything, while Rex Nicholls was quite restrained in his spending and didn’t get any of Kerry’s old anonymous donations.

Onslow-Western Ward

  Expenses Donations Votes Per Vote
Andy Foster $2,770.56 $0.00 4381 $0.63
Jo Coughlan $2,164.30 $0.00 3495.05 $0.62
Simon Woolf $10,500.00 $10,500.00 3579.17 $2.93
Malcolm Aitken $8,117.42 $0.00 1982 $4.10
Hayley Robinson $2,208.94 $0.00 970.09 $2.28
Phil Howison $809.18 $0.00 707.92 $1.14
Martin Wilson $8,275 $2,000.00 607.33 $13.63
Dan Coffey $0.00 $0.00 502.24 $0.00
Sridhar Ekambaram                       $5710.62               $0.00 342.48 $0.00
Arie Ketel $318.00 $0.00 224.55 $1.42
Emma MacRae $0.00 $0.00 202.07 $0.00
Gill Holmes $0.00 $0.00 80.5 $0.00

Ward total: $35,163.40, average: $2,930.28.

Foster and Coughlin showed how little you have to do to get reelected after you’ve been on council for years with their tiny cost per vote.

Simon Woolf didn’t spend up large to win in a crowded field with an open seat. No doubt his name recognition and favourable media helped a lot to achieve the lowest cost per vote of any new councillor.

Malcolm Aitken will be disappointed he failed to capitalise on a energetic and reasonably well financed campaign. I don’t know what Martin Wilson was thinking to spend as much as he did. Putting a few ads in the paper wont get you elected.

6 responses to “Campaign 2013: Who spent what

  1. What was the $5000 expense for Don McDonald? I’m having trouble reading it. It looks like “Domino” “Dran Endo”.

  2. I note that you still haven’t withdrawn your unjustified and factually incorrect accusations against Sridhar.

  3. Je! I am seeing this article only now. Thanks Phil and Hayley for pointing out the incorrect conclusions regarding my expenses.

    And not surprisingly the author does not reveal himself / herself.

  4. Apologies this should have been fixed up earlier, but we were busy hibernating and I’ve just seen this now. It was not my post but I have removed the offending part of the post and apologise for it not being removed earlier.

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