Skip to main content

What Your Vote Cost

Carol Kent, a freshman Democrat who unsuccessfully defended her north Dallas seat in the Texas House, spent $64.06 per vote — the most of any of the 194 candidates running for state offices in this year’s general election, according to an analysis of campaign-finance data by The Texas Tribune.

Lead image for this article

Your attention is expensive. Gov. Rick Perry’s campaign spent $14.58 for every vote he received in the general election. Democrat Bill White spent $11.76. And those were the efficient contests.

Carol Kent, a freshman Democrat who unsuccessfully defended her north Dallas seat in the Texas House, spent $64.06 per vote — the most of any of the 194 candidates running for state offices in this year’s general election, according to an analysis of campaign finance data by The Texas Tribune. In Irving, State Rep. Linda Harper-Brown, a Republican, spent the second highest-amount: $63.72. She won.

Judges, who raise less money and whose fates on the ballot tend to have more to do with their political affiliations than with their qualifications, spend only pennies per vote. Three Republicans won state Supreme Court races on Tuesday: Eva Guzman, spending 26 cents per vote; Debra Lehrmann, 25 cents per vote; and Paul Green, just a dime per vote. Cheryl Johnson, a Republican re-elected to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, spent less than any other winner on the statewide ballot, using just $1,413 to win 3.2 million votes. She had no major-party opponent.

The numbers are imprecise because of the way campaigns report their spending to the Texas Ethics Commission — at midyear, 30 days before the election, and eight days before the election. The Tribune’s analysis looked at those reports but does not include large contributions during the last week before the election, because spending for that period is not reported until end-of-year numbers are due in January. The analysis takes account of candidate expenditures but not third-party spending on their behalf.

The highest per-vote spenders are not always the biggest spenders overall. Perry and White, who ran expensive statewide races, spent the most but also were fishing in the biggest pool of voters. And this sort of unit-pricing favors the winners, whose spending is spread over a greater number of votes.

“If money didn’t correlate to votes, we wouldn’t spend it,” said Glenn Smith, a Democratic consultant. “If everything else is equal, the guy with the most money wins.” But he said other factors — a backlash against Washington, for instance — can overwhelm financial advantages.

In fact, the axiom that you get what you pay for did not seem to apply this year. Half of the top 10 spenders per vote lost, including Kent ($64.06), Patrick Rose ($52.12), Michael Bunch ($49.37), Joe Heflin ($44.42) and Kristi Thibaut ($42.12). All were in House races; all are Democrats except for Bunch. Their successful opponents won spending less per vote. In respective order: Stefani Carter ($59.38), Jason Isaac ($21.01), Senfronia Thompson ($10.88), Jim Landtroop ($29.54) and Jim Murphy ($28.07).

Who spent the least against major party opposition and won? Mostly judges and down-ballot statewide candidates. Michael Keasler, a Republican running for re-election to the Court of Criminal Appeals, spent just a penny per vote to beat Keith Hampton, a Democrat who spent 3 cents per vote. David Porter, the Republican railroad commissioner-elect, spent just 13 cents per vote against Jeff Weems, a Democrat who spent 17 cents per vote. 

Texas Tribune donors or members may be quoted or mentioned in our stories, or may be the subject of them. For a complete list of contributors, click here.

Quality journalism doesn't come free

Yes, I'll donate today