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Money In Politics:

The cost of winning elections

Published January 21, 2021

Last year 95 percent of incumbent New York State legislators successfully ran for reelection. A third of Western New York’s Albany delegation ran unopposed, and all but a few faced scant opposition in districts designed to favor one party or another. Despite that, the successful candidates raised and spent a great deal of money on their campaigns — particularly on TV and radio ads, as well as printing, postage, and contributions to other candidates and political committees. Ken Kruly, Investigative Post researcher and publisher of Politics and Other Stuff, examined campaign spending over the past two-year election cycle by the 16 Western New Yorkers who won state Senate and Assembly seats in November to determine the cost of doing political business in the region.


The cost of winning

Winning candidate, district Spent Votes Cost per vote
Monica Wallace (D); Assembly-143 $ 527,968 35,201 $ 15.00
Karen McMahon (D); A-146 $ 317,878 38,085 $ 8.35
Sean Ryan (D); Senate- 60 $ 701,903 91,008 $ 7.71
Crystal Peoples-Stokes (D); A-141 * $ 259,118 42,587 $ 6.08
Pat Burke (D); A-142 $ 156,167 36,752 $ 4.25
Tim Kennedy (D); S-63 $ 384,991 95,417 $ 4.03
Bill Conrad (D); A-140 $ 137,986 35,612 $ 3.87
Edward Rath (R); S-61 $ 264,605 79,454 $ 3.33
Jonathan Rivera (D); A-149 $ 86,904 38,585 $ 2.25
Pat Gallivan (R); S-59 $ 226,728 106,057 $ 2.14
Angelo Morinello (R); A-145 * $ 71,926 44,255 $ 1.63
Michael Norris (R); A-144 * $ 83,807 54,375 $ 1.54
Robert Ortt (R); S- 62 * $ 105,999 101,883 $ 1.04
David DiPietro (R); A-147 * $ 57,400 56,854 $ 1.01
Andrew Goodell (R); A-150 $ 37,606 39,593 $ 0.95
George Borrello (R); S-57 $ 33,585 87,934 $ 0.38
* ran unopposed

Talking Points

  • The 16 Western New Yorkers who won seats in the New York State Legislature in November spent a combined $3,454,511 on their campaigns. That’s an average of $215,911.
  • State Senator George Borrello (R-Chautauqua) spent the least, $33,585. State Senator Sean Ryan (D-Buffalo) spent the most, $701,903. 
  • Ryan’s total includes his campaign’s contribution of $252,908 to the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee. That’s the most any of the nine candidates who kicked back to a party committee. 
  • Four candidates were recipients of money from Albany campaign committees. Assemblywoman Monica Wallace got the most help, $382,600. Three candidates neither received nor donated to their respective statewide committees.
  • In terms of dollars per vote, Borrello was the most efficient campaigner, at 38 cents per vote, followed by Andrew Goddell (95 cents) and David DiPietro, who ran unopposed, ($1.01). Wallace spent the most, at $15 per vote, followed by Karen McMahon ($8.35) and Ryan ($7.71)
  • Five winning candidates were unopposed for re-election: Senator Robert Ortt, and Assembly Members Crystal Peoples-Stokes, Michael Norris, Angelo Morinello and David DiPietro. Nonetheless, they spent $578,250, for an average of $115,650.
  • Those unopposed candidates received an average of 75 percent of the total votes cast in their districts. That means one in four voters in those districts didn’t bother to fill in the circle next to the unopposed candidate’s name.
  • Among the 11 candidates who had opponents, the average winning vote margin was 60 percent, ranging from 79 percent (state Senator Tim Kennedy) to 50 percent (Wallace).

Podcast

Ken and Geoff Kelly examine the price of running for a state Legislature seat, as well as what the most recent campaign finance filings portend for this year’s races for Erie County Sheriff and Erie County Comptroller.

Listen to Podcast

Coming the week of Feb. 1 — How retiring politicians stockpile campaign funds