Millionaire nightclub owner Gene La Pietra, who spent more than $334,280 in his unsuccessful bid for a seat on the West Hollywood City Council last November, may have spent more per vote than any candidate in the state's history, according to spokesman for the state's Fair Political Practices Commission.
Campaign records show that La Pietra spent $108 per vote, while his opponent, winning candidate Abbe Land, spent $6.22 per vote. Land, who spent $48,561 on her campaign, received 7,807 votes to La Pietra's 3,095, according to City Clerk Mary Tyson.
"Based on a cost per vote, that is the most expensive race that I have ever heard of in California," said Fair Political Practices Commission spokesman Jay Greenwood. "I have heard of a city council election in which the cost per vote was $87, and that was the highest I had ever heard of before this."
Greenwood said, however, that there is no way of determining absolutely the highest amount ever spent.
The commission, which analyzes state elections, rarely examines local elections, which tend to be more costly on a per-vote basis than state races, Greenwood said.
However, the California Commission on Campaign Financing, a West Los Angeles-based nonprofit research firm that analyzes local elections, has also said that La Pietra's expenditures were among the highest on record.
"I think $100 is almost certainly a record. That's just a tremendous amount of money to spend on every vote and, of course, to lose is doubly galling," said Robert M. Stern, general counsel for the California Commission on Campaign Financing.
Stern said that La Pietra's losing bid showed that "spending a tremendous sum does not guarantee a victory." He said, however, that it is unusual to spend so much and lose.
"Most of the time when you spend a lot of money, you win," he said. "Clearly there were other issues that affected the outcome."
Shaken by Disclosures
La Pietra's campaign was shaken by disclosures last September that he had made some of his fortune in the pornographic film and book business and had been convicted on federal and state criminal obscenity charges.
La Pietra, 38, acknowledged the convictions and continued his campaign, insisting that the city's population was politically sophisticated and would not regard these disclosures as election issues.
By Oct. 1, La Pietra, owner of Circus Disco, had already lent himself $75,000 to cover the costs of leasing an expensive two-story circular office on Santa Monica Boulevard and the high salaries of campaign aides and consultants.
He also held a pre-election-day barbecue, took out advertisements in local publications and blanketed the city with election posters, buttons and mailers.
Most of the contributions to La Pietra's campaign were in the $100 to $500 range and came from friends, local supporters and small businesses such as developers, architects, contractors and area merchants, according to city records.
Greenwood said that La Pietra's high expenditures may have backfired.
"It may have turned people off," he said. "Many people are upset about being flooded with mail. From research, we've found that the single most pressing problem people see in campaigning is the high cost of the campaign."
Many statewide elections cost less than $1 per vote, according to Greenwood. Gubernatorial elections are slightly more expensive: Gov. Deukmejian spent about $2 per vote in last November's election, Greenwood said. The most expensive state Senate campaigns average about $10 per vote and the most expensive Assembly races run about $15 per vote, he said.
The most expensive Assembly race in California history was that of Tom Hayden (D-Santa Monica) who spent $1.3 million--$20.02 per vote--in winning his election in 1982, Stern said.
The most expensive unsuccessful city council bid before La Pietra's, Stern said, was that of incumbent Peggy Stevenson who lost to Michael Woo for the 13th Council District in Los Angeles in June, 1985. Stevenson spent $41.05 per vote, Stern said.