Clay Pell campaign spent $111 for every vote he got

Clay Pell smiles during his announcement for governor of Rhode Island in January 2014. (photo: Stephan Savoia/AP)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Clay Pell finished the 2014 Democratic gubernatorial primary right where he started, in third place – but not before dishing out more than $3.4 million of his own money in a failed attempt to win.

Preliminary results from the R.I. Board of Elections currently show Pell getting 32,986 votes after spending $3.7 million since he jumped into the race. That works out to a campaign cost of $111 for each vote he received.

The winner of the Democratic primary, General Treasurer Gina Raimondo, currently has 51,770 votes after spending $4.9 million since the start of 2013. For Raimondo, that works out to $94 for every vote she received.

Providence Mayor Angel Taveras, who placed a distant second to Raimondo in the primary, was swamped by Raimondo’s fundraising and Pell’s personal wealth. Board of Elections results show him getting 35,803 votes after spending $2.3 million, or roughly $63 for each vote he received.

All told, the three Democratic candidates spent $10.8 million on their campaigns from the start of 2013 through Sept. 1, according to an analysis of Board of Elections filings, which is almost certainly a record amount for a primary in Rhode Island.

By the Numbers: See the breakdown of each race on Primary Night 2014 Click here for more >>
By the Numbers: See the breakdown of each race on primary night Click here for more >>

Unlike Raimondo and Taveras, who each raised all the money their primary campaigns spent from donors, nearly all of Pell’s spending came right out of his own wallet. Pell, the 32-year-old grandson of U.S. Sen. Claiborne Pell, loaned his campaign a whopping $3.407 million between Nov. 22 and Aug. 26.

On the Republican side, Cranston Mayor Allan Fung managed to win the Republican nomination despite being slightly outspent by his rival, Barrington businessman Ken Block, and it showed in the efficiency of their spending per vote.

Board of Elections results show Fung receiving 17,011 votes after spending $708,764 on his campaign, for a grand total of $42 per vote Fung received. The results show Block receiving 13,932 after spending $758,613, or $54 per vote Block received.

Like Pell, Block put his own personal wealth into the race, though on a significantly smaller scale. Block loaned his campaign $700,000 from Sept. 30 to June 30. When combined with the personal loans he made to his 2010 gubernatorial bid as the Moderate Party candidate, Block has spent $1.2 million on his two unsuccessful campaigns.

The two Republican candidates spent a combined $1.5 million on their two campaigns from the start of 2013 through Sept. 1, meaning the three Democrats spent seven times more money than their GOP counterparts – a relatively unsurprising fact considering Republican primaries draw far fewer voters to the polls in heavily Democratic Rhode Island.

The top five candidates for governor spent a combined $12.3 million on their campaigns from the start of 2013 through Sept. 1, and continued to spend money through Tuesday’s primary, meaning the final total for the primary will be even higher – and Fung and Raimondo will have to spend more over the next two months to win in November.

To put those numbers in perspective, the top four candidates for governor in 2010 – Lincoln Chafee, Frank Caprio, John Robitaille and Ken Block – spent just $6.3 million on their campaigns from early 2009 through November 2010, so spending on this year’s race is already nearly twice as high with two months to go before the November election.

The nearly $5-million spent by Raimondo on the primary reduced her once-enormous campaign war chest to just $361,089 as of Sept. 1, and she will need to ramp up her fundraising once again to compete in the fall campaign. Fung had $129,276 on hand as of Sept. 1, but is set to get roughly $1 million in state matching funds, which Raimondo is not taking.

The Board of Elections filings only count money raised and spent by the candidates in their own campaign accounts. It excludes the money shelled out to boost them by outside groups such as political action committees or labor unions, which played a particularly active role in the Democratic primary.

The general election is Nov. 4. Three others are also seeking the governor’s office in November: Moderate Party candidate James Spooner and independent candidates Kate Fletcher and Leon Kayarian.

Ted Nesi ( ) covers politics and the economy for and writes the Nesi’s Notes blog. Follow him on Twitter: @tednesi

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