Money

2020 Campaign Spending in West St. Paul Hits Record High

Thanks to Cherokee Service for their support.

West St. Paul’s 2020 election campaign was the most expensive in history. Candidates spent a combined $46,000 between the four contested races for the mayor and three City Council seats.

This didn’t change substantially from the numbers we reported before the election, but now we have final totals.

  • Most expensive: Robyn Gulley spend a record $12,181 on her first-time campaign for the Ward 2 City Council seat. That’s the most expensive campaign in city history, for any position. The previous record for most expensive City Council campaign was David Meisinger’s losing bid in 2018 when he spent $6,396.
  • Least expensive: Anthony Fernandez—ironically, the candidate who spent the least went up against the candidate who spent the most. In Ward 2, Fernandez spent $1,536 on his campaign, helped along by his incumbent status (which meant he could re-use signs from his 2016 run). Another bit of irony: While spending the least this year, Fernandez led the charge in City Council campaign spending as the first to break the $3,000 barrier in 2016.
  • Why are races getting more expensive? Competition. Not only were all the races contested in 2020, but the competition was pretty fierce. In previous years, we’ve had a mixed bag of contested races (2008, 2016, and 2020 are the only years with all four races contested), but not all of those challenges were backed with serious effort. We had candidates on the November ballot in 2010 and 2012 who didn’t spend anything. This year we had serious spending by all candidates in the general election.
  • Does money win races? It depends on who you ask. One of those candidates who didn’t spend anything back in 2010 won (Ed Hansen, who would later resign after multiple controversies). In 2018, the three contested races were won by the candidate who spent less than their opponent. But going back to 2008, it’s about even. That’s what happened in 2020: In half the races the candidate who spent more won.
  • Where does this money come from? Most campaigns rely on contributions from supporters, though Meisinger self-funded his entire campaign (something he also did in 2018). 2020 did see an influx of outside spending, mostly from union groups, that seems to be much larger than previous years. For example, Gulley raised $4,250 in donations from outside groups. Half the candidates received outside contributions totaling $9,450, so while that is a big chunk of change, the majority of funding still comes from supporters.
  • Outside spending: While outside groups did contribute to local campaigns, they also spent their own money on behalf of local campaigns. This took place in the form of mailers and Facebook ads. It’s unclear if this kind of spending has happened in previous West St. Paul elections. This is difficult to track and full reporting isn’t due yet, so it’s hard to know how much these groups spent this year. Based on previously released reports, the Laborer’s International Union of North America did spend $1,650 for both Lisa Eng-Sarne and Julie Eastman, and $1,500 for Gulley. Since it’s hard to know these totals and candidates have no control over this spending, it’s not included in the totals listed above or below.

Spending Per Race

Ward 1
Julie Eastman (w)$4,221
Bob Pace (i)$5,687
Ward 2
Anthony Fernandez (i)$1,536
Robyn Gulley (w)$12,181
Ward 3
Lisa Eng-Sarne (i) (w)$7,455
David Meisinger$2,424
Mayor
Kimetha “KaeJae” Johnson$9,308
Dave Napier (i) (w)$3,609
(w=winner, i=incumbent)

Run for Office

If you’re thinking of running for office in the future, here’s a look at the average spending for campaigns in West St. Paul:

If you love West St. Paul and want to make it better, you should consider running for office.

The next election will be the ISD 197 school board in November 2021 when three seats will be up. Those seats are currently held by John Chandler, Maureen Ramirez, and a seat being vacated by Stephanie Levine with a replacement to be appointed in January. The filing period will open in July/August 2021.

The next West St. Paul election will be in 2022 when three city council seats and the mayor will be on the ballot. Those seats are currently held by Mayor Dave Napier, Dick Vitelli in Ward 1, John Justen in Ward 2, and Wendy Berry in Ward 3. The filing period will open in mid-May 2022.

Disclaimers: Our analysis of campaign spending in West St. Paul is based on public campaign finance reports going back to 2008—so statements about historic records only go back to 2008, though given recent expenses and trends it seems a reasonable claim to make. There is a reporting threshold where candidates are not required to report spending less than $750, which could impact these numbers. Average cost of running only includes contested races. Totals are based on amounts spent, not amounts raised (some candidates have remaining cash on-hand after election expenses, including more than $1,100 for Eng-Sarne).

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