CERRITOS — To play politics and win in this town has gotten awfully expensive.
Fifteen candidates spent a record $102,034--or $17.60 for every vote cast--to win one of three council seats in the April 8 city election, according to final campaign finance reports filed at City Hall last week.
Far and away the highest roller was incumbent Alex J. Beanum, who raised $28,080 and spent $32,609 in a run for a third term, only to finish fourth and out of the money by 167 votes. Bound to a wheelchair by a 1980 traffic accident, Beanum said he had no choice but to spend heavily to spread his message through expensive mailers to stave off the largest field of challengers in city history. In the final two weeks alone, Beanum spent $3,980 on postage and printing.
Beanum was not the only big spender losing on election night. First-time candidate and political unknown Ravinder Mehta spent $19,112 in the race, but finished sixth and well behind the winners, incumbents Diana S. Needham and Barry A. Rabbitt and council newcomer Ann B. Joynt.
Needham, the top vote-getter, was the third biggest spender at $17,223.
While no one else in the race spent more than $8,000, experts say the combined expenditures of all Cerritos candidates clearly fits a pattern around the state of increased spending in local municipal elections. Concern over the source, type and size of the contributions given to local candidates has prompted a growing list of California cities to adopt tougher campaign contribution laws, said Bob Stern, founder of the California Commission on Campaign Financing. Currently, Cerritos has no ordinance regulating any phase of campaign contributions.
Spending 'More Than Ever'
"On the city and county levels, candidates are definitely spending more than ever," said Stern, whose Santa Monica-based nonpartisan group is currently studying the effect of increased spending in local elections.
For years, Stern said, a few hundred dollars and a lot of handshakes were enough to win a council seat. But no more.
In Cerritos, eight candidates in the 1980 council race spent a total of $23,624 for an average of $2,953 apiece. This year, the average candidate spent $6,802, a 76% increase since 1980.
In the election, Needham easily won a third term, getting 2,674 votes or 17.2%, followed by Joynt, 2,155 or 13.9% and Rabbitt, 2,082 or 13.4%.
Joynt, a former Cerritos teacher and seven-year member of the city Planning Commission, raised $8,190, according to City Hall records. She spent $6,939, about half of it on mailers in the last two weeks of the campaign. About half of Joynt's money was a loan from her husband, a local teacher.
As has been his strategy in past elections, Rabbitt waited until the campaign's final days to spend more than half of the $7,881 he raised for his run for an unprecedented fifth council term.
In a losing effort, Mehta raised $19,658, (about $16,650 in loans to himself), and spent all but $550. Mehta was one of two candidates to hire an outside consultant to engineer his campaign, a first in Cerritos politics. Records show that Mehta, a deputy district attorney in Orange County, paid a Santa Ana-based firm, the Broadway Group, $18,534 to run his race.
Might Run Again
Mehta has said he is not disappointed at spending so much only to lose. He indicated there is a "strong possibility" that he will run for council again, saying "the money spent this time around may help down the road."
Alan Ulrich, a 36-year-old customer service agent for United Parcel Service and a political novice, also hired a professional to advise him. Finishing seventh behind Mehta, Ulrich raised $6,222 (about half of it in loans to himself) and spent $6,537.
Some have suggested the record spending was prompted by the large field of candidates.
But Needham said the rate of spending for council elections is likely to climb. To have a chance to win, Needham said it now costs about $20,000. "That's about what it takes to get out two mailings, signs and hold a major fund-raiser," she said, adding she was not surprised by how much was spent in the recent campaign. Needham said almost all of her money was generated by a fund-raising dinner that cost between $6,000 and $7,000 to stage.
Needham and Beanum were criticized during the campaign because they accepted contributions from real estate and development interests. Beanum received $9,150 from contractors and builders, including $500 from each of the two companies chosen by the council a year ago to develop the $225-million Towne Center program. The firms, Transpacific Development Co. and General Growth of California, also contributed $400 each to Needham's campaign.
Funds From Developer
Both Beanum and Needham as well as Rabbitt and Joynt also received $500 each from Amos Krausz, a Northern California-based developer who built much of Best Plaza, Restaurant Row along 183rd Street and the new nine-story high-rise off Studebaker Road.