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The $16.3 million race: a closer look at the Berman-Sherman numbers

by Jonah Lowenfeld

December 12, 2012 | 12:22 pm

As the L.A. Times reported, the total spending by Brad Sherman and Howard Berman in their race to represent the new 30th congressional district in the San Fernando Valley broke the record for spending by candidates on a congressional race in California.

Combined, the two candidates spent $11.7 million; Sherman spent $6 million while Berman spent $5.7 million. Add in the $4.5 million in spending by the political parties and outside groups on behalf of the two Democratic incumbents, and the total spending on the race goes up to $16.3 million.

Sherman, who was reelected by a 20-point margin in November, led in the polls throughout, thanks in large part to his having represented the majority of the new district’s voters for the past decade.

Berman, befitting a candidate who was better known for his fundraising prowess than he was known by the voters in the 30th district, outspent Sherman by $1.3 million in advance of the June primary election.

Sherman won that open primary by 10 points. Then, in the months leading up to the head-to-head contest in November, he outspent Berman by $1.6 million.

The numbers are staggering. The L.A. Times offered the context of the race in 2000 that used to hold the record as the one in which California Congressional candidates spent the most:

Spending on the Berman-Sherman race surpassed the $11.5-million record for a California House race, set in 2000 when Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank) ousted Republican incumbent James E. Rogan. But there was more outside spending -– an estimated $7.5 million -- by the political parties and interest groups in the 2000 race.  The race between Berman and Sherman, both Democrats, drew $4.5 million in outside spending.

And consider the spending in the 30th district on a per-voter basis: For each of the district’s roughly 400,000 registered voters, the campaigns and their allies spent about $40.80 apiece.

Only 62 percent of registered voters cast ballots in November, so for each of those 248,000 votes, the Berman or Sherman campaigns spent $24 in the five months prior to the election. The cost-per-vote could be said to have been even higher for the primary, when only 19 percent of the electorate turned out to cast ballots. (Campaigns, like most enterprises, have higher start-up costs, so the sum spent by the campaigns in advance of the primary -- $79 per vote cast in June -- is not actually all that helpful.)

Where did all that money go? How much of it was spent on campaign literature in mailboxes, ads on cable TV and at least a few billboards? How much went to consultants of various types? On credit card fees to process donations? On air travel?

That’s a topic for another post.

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As a result of California’s 2011 redistricting, two Jewish Democratic incumbent congressmen, Howard Berman (D - Valley Village) and Brad Sherman (D - Sherman Oaks), have both...

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