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The Rising Cost of Winning Votes

The Rising Cost of Winning Votes

Local tech and real estate interests take sides in City Hall, leading to record-breaking election spending

San Francisco last year saw a high-water mark for spending on elections, with nearly $28 million flowing into slickly produced campaigns that flooded the airwaves and filled mailboxes with questionable claims about ballot measures and candidates.

But the money was not evenly distributed. Airbnb, the short-term rental startup, crushed a proposal to regulate its industry, spending a whopping $9 million. The company’s efforts were endorsed by Mayor Ed Lee, whose allied campaigns for other issues and candidates dominated almost every race they invested in.

The Public Press partnered with the TV Archive, a project of the San Francisco-based Internet Archive, to examine the facts, half-truths and misstatements that aired before November 2015’s pivotal election. Perhaps surprisingly in our tech-soaked city, political campaigns are still investing heavily in persuading voters on television, and investing in savvy national campaign consultants. At the same time, TV stations’ news programs devoted just a few seconds to independent coverage of the elections for each minute of political advertising.

The ever-increasing involvement of moneyed interests worries ethics experts and has spurred reforms to rein in fundraising by lobbyists. While emblematic of the threat of corporate influence peddling in City Hall, lobbyists themselves raise comparatively little, and limiting their involvement would only scratch the surface of the spending expected in contests in 2016 and beyond.

Extra: Public Press project editor Angela Woodall spoke with KALW’s Ben Trefny about this investigation. Listen to the interview from Aug 15, 2016.).

 


1. In Bid for Dominance, Mayor’s Allies Flood S.F. Politics With Corporate Cash

Last year spending on local elections was the highest on record, reaching nearly $28 million.

Published August 17, 2016


2. What Don’t We Know About Campaign Finance?

We spent six months digging and sorting — and we found a $20 million discrepency

Published August 17, 2016


3. Data Sets

Explore data from SF Open Data on committee, media and election spending

Published August 17, 2016


4. Slick, Misleading TV Ads Paid Off

The 2015 election united the political clout of two rich, powerful industries: real estate and technology.

Published August 18, 2016

 

5. The Most Misleading Political Ads of 2015

A sampling of some of the worst offending ads, containing manipulations, misleading claims, circular citations and inflated numbers.

Published August 18, 2016


6. Election Ads Overshadowed TV News 7-to-1

25.8 hours of paid political ads versus 3.5 hours of election news coverage.

Published August 18, 2016


7. Tracking TV News — and the Challenges Involved

Coverage of local elections was scarce — and repetitive

Published August 19, 2016

8. Online TV Archive Preserves History of Politics Coverage

This publicly accessible tool allows anyone to perform data-driven analyses of television content

Published August 19, 2016

 

9. Mining the Internet Archive’s TV News

How to search the extensive Internet Archive collection.

Published August 19, 2016



ABOUT THIS REPORTING PROJECT

The Public Press compiled campaign finance records to show a pattern of massive spending by big businesses and allies of Mayor Ed Lee. Our reporters also logged and evaluated the claims of hours of political ads and TV news coverage from the 2015 elections in collaboration with the TV Archive, a project of the Internet Archive.

REPORTING: Angela Woodall, Michael Stoll, Sara Bloomberg, Meka Boyle, Cody Wright, Dayvon Dunaway

PROJECT EDITORS: Noah Arroyo, Michael Winter

DATA GRAPHICS: Amanda Hickman

DIRECTOR OF DESIGN: Erika Rae Lawson

PHOTOGRAPHY:  Steve Rhodes, Hyunha Kim

ILLUSTRATIONS:  Anna Vignet

ONLINE:  John Angelico

THIS PROJECT WAS MADE POSSIBLE BY GRANTS FROM THE CRAIGSLIST CHARITABLE FUND, THE FUND FOR INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALISM AND DONATIONS BY PUBLIC PRESS MEMBERS.