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Election Campaign Par for Beverly Hills: Costly

August 04, 1988|JULIO MORAN | Times Staff Writer

Last April's municipal election maintained Beverly Hills' reputation as a city with one of the most expensive elections in the state on a cost-per-vote basis, with one successful candidate spending $32 per vote and an unsuccessful candidate spending $56 per vote.

There is no established average cost-per-vote, but the California Commission on Campaign Financing, a nonprofit organization studying local campaign financing, considers $4 per vote to be costly.

Bernie J. Hecht, who placed third among 13 candidates vying for three at-large City Council seats, spent $105,698 and received 3,272 votes, at a cost of $32.30 per vote, according to campaign financial statements filed with the city clerk this week.

Hecht edged out fourth-place finisher Ellen Stern Harris by 359 votes, but he spent nearly four times the money to do so. According to her financial statement, Harris spent $24,457 and received 2,913 votes, at a cost of $8.39 per vote.

Cost of Losing

Two unsuccessful candidates also paid a big price for their efforts. Mary Levin Cutler, a virtual political unknown before the campaign, spent $93,645, putting up all but $845 of the money herself. She spent about one-third of her money, or $31,064, on a paid staff, including $20,575 for a consultant.

Cutler finished fifth, receiving 1,661 votes, but spent the most per vote: $56.38.

David L. Brady, an attorney, spent $42,766 and finished sixth with 1,130 votes, at a cost of $37.85 per vote.

According to his financial statement, Brady spent $841 more than he raised. He also has an outstanding loan of $21,600, $18,600 of which he loaned to himself.

The top vote-getter, former Planning Commissioner Allan L. Alexander, spent $56,820 and received 4,957 votes, at a cost of $11.46 per vote. With contributions received after the April 12 election, Alexander has sufficient funds to repay a $15,000 loan he made to his campaign.

Vicki Reynolds, former Beverly Hills Unified School District Board of Education president who placed second with 3,796 votes, spent $89,794, or $23.65 per vote. Reynolds raised $94,000 and donated the balance to four Beverly Hills charities.

Forced to Spend

Hecht, who had two previous unsuccessful runs at the City Council, said in an interview that he spent more money than he had expected, but he said the number of candidates and the amount of money they were spending forced him to reach the $100,000 mark.

"Under the circumstances of not knowing what kind of support we'd get, specifically newspaper support, it put us in a position where we had to spend," he said.

But Harris said the April campaign shows that too much money is being spent on Beverly Hills elections.

"I would like Beverly Hills to focus on how much good could have been done with so much money, helping the homeless or improving (city) services, and other values that we should hold dear," Harris said. "I find these expenditures simply obscene. I am proud of my all-volunteer staff for their contribution to the community participation in the election."

Harris also renewed her call for mandatory campaign spending limits.

Inappropriate Spending

"I think it is ever more critical," she said. "I do not think it is appropriate to spend more than $25,000 for a community of our size." Beverly Hills has a population of about 32,000.

Hecht also supports a spending limit, but he did not suggest a specific amount. He said he has established two committees to look into how to get more people to vote in city elections and how to control campaign spending. Alexander said he favors a spending limit between $50,000 and $75,000. He suggested that the limit start out at the higher end and be brought down gradually in future elections.

The race for city treasurer was not as costly as the City Council race. Benjamin F. Sanford, the successful candidate, spent $16,351 and received 2,557 votes, at a cost of $6.39 per vote. Sanford beat Joan Seidel by 94 votes. She spent $15,326 and received 2,463 votes, at a cost of $6.22 per vote.

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