Candidates spent more than $26,500 this year going after one seat on the Tooele County Commission.
The majority of that cash was splashed by Democrat George Young, who spent $15,207 to garner 33 percent of the vote, according to campaign finance reports filed Dec. 6 with the Tooele County Clerk. Republican candidate Shawn Milne, who won the seat with 59 percent of the vote, spent a total of $10,598.
Young spent the largest sum of money — $4,060 to local design company We Create — on a billboard on SR-36. Various forms of advertising, like banners, yard signs and brochures were his next highest cost at $4,186.
Young said reaching every voter through advertising is difficult.
“I don’t know how to do that. I think the uninformed voter tended to vote the other way,” Young said. “I think I reached the audience I had planned on, but I didn’t do a good job of reaching everyone. However, the advertising money was well spent. I just don’t know how I would have reached everyone.”
Milne’s largest outlay was $5,315 on advertising, flyers and vinyl banners. He also spent $200 to create a YouTube video that explained to viewers why he should become the next Tooele County commissioner, $660 on campaign buttons, and $1,188 on campaign T-shirts.
“It’s all about exposure,” Milne said. “Sometimes someone wearing something or seeing a sign with a face helps them to initiate a conversation. I wanted people talking, and the likelihood of people having a conversation about the candidates would lead to what the candidates stood for, which leads to more educated voting.”
Milne said spending the majority of his campaign money on advertising was very beneficial to him because he didn’t have the inertia of being lifelong resident like his opponents.
On the fundraising side, Young’s largest contribution came as a payment of $7,877 to himself. He also received a contribution of $1,860 from We Create, and $1,000 donations from friends Jim Gowans and Richard Hunt, and Salt Lake-based Granite Construction. The Tooele County Democrats gave him a donation of $500.
Young said the donations he received from his 12 contributors came mostly from business associates and friends. Putting his own money into his campaign was something he budgeted for before entering the race.
“If I’d won, it would have been worth it, but what I spent was less than what I planned on spending,” Young said. “I wish the results would have been different, but if I had to do it over again I don’t know what I’d do different.”
Milne received a total of $8,300 in donations, $1,100 of which were in-kind donations. The largest donation came from the Tooele County Republicans, which contributed $2,700. The next largest donation, which was an in-kind donation of $900, came from Tooele resident Sandy Critchlow. Salt Lake-based cleaning chemical manufacturing company Additive Technologies, Salt Lake-based website design company Deseret Communications and Michael and Cylee Presley each contributed $500 too.
By the end of his campaign, Milne had to spend $2,294 of his own money.
“I also have a $600 bill that’s come in after the reporting period,” Milne said. “So it was approximately $3,000 that was out of pocket.”
Tooele County Commission chairwoman Colleen Johnson, who got only 3 percent of the vote as a write-in candidate, spent a total of $790 on her campaign. Most of that went for stickers, signs and advertising.
“I didn’t get into the game until late and I had stuff left over from my other two campaigns, so I didn’t have to spend a lot on signs or anything,” Johnson said. “But I had to buy some stickers to put on my old signs and then I bought a few new ones.”
Johnson only received two donations totaling $270, and spent $520 out of pocket.
This November’s contest did seem to mark an escalation in spending from past commission races.
In 2010, then-Democrat Vicki Griffith spent $11,645 on an unsuccessful attempt to unseat incumbent commissioner Bruce Clegg, a Republican, who himself spent $8,835. That combined total of $20,480 was 23 percent less than the total spending on this year’s race.
“Politics in general are costing more,” said Tooele County Republican Party chairman Chris Sloan. “The ability to go out and reach your audience gets more expensive. Running ads and creating banners is expensive. In Shawn Milne’s case, you also have to factor in the cost of campaigning for a hot primary race.”
Tooele County Clerk Marilyn Gillette said just six years ago, which is the latest data she has available, campaigns were costing candidates between $6,000 and $11,000 each.
Sloan also noted campaigning seems to start earlier each year.
“The campaigning starts in March now and ends in November,” he said. “But at the end of the day, cost is really about getting your message out. Our county is huge. When you factor in places like Dugway and Wendover, we are spread out geographically over a huge area, and that’s a lot of extra cost.”
Sloan said Young probably wouldn’t have had to spend as much money on his campaign as he did if his message had gotten across better.
“Getting your message out is only half the battle,” he said. “If your message doesn’t resonate, then it doesn’t really matter. In George’s case, I think he played down his Democratic affiliation, and that didn’t help him. In addition, with the financial issues the county was experiencing, George wasn’t able to tell people what he was going to do. Whether its $10 or $1 million, if your message doesn’t resonate, it doesn’t matter what you spend.”