Money can't buy you the Wellington Mayoralty, but it sure helps
I had a look at Wellington Mayoral campaign expenses and donations for the last three elections. The candidate who spent the most won every time and also spent virtually all of the $60k cap. It's also very interesting to see who is trying to buy themselves a Mayor via donations.
In 2013 Celia Wade-Brown just edged out John Morrison with both of them spending over $55k.
Here's where the money came from in 2013 (only donations over $1.5k have to be declared). Interesting how big the gap between expenses and donations is for all candidates. There must have been a lot of small, undeclared donations or candidates footing the bill themselves?
In 2016 Justin Lester won by spending slightly more than Nick Leggett and Jo Coughlan. A massive $250k was spent overall.
Here's where all the money came from in 2016. Nick Leggett collected twice as much as he was even allowed to spend (wonder where the rest went?). Over $200k was donated to three right-leaning candidates who still couldn't win. There's also a massive gap between expenses and donations over $1.5k for Lester who must have had a lot of small donations or payed some of the bill himself.
In 2019 Andy Foster won (just) by outspending everybody else and using almost all of the $60k cap. Justin Lester's spend dropped from $58k in 2016 to $16k in 2019, while Foster's went from $13k to $58k. At face value incumbency and the Labour brand turned out to be less important for Lester than dollars.
The story's already been well told about where the money came from in 2019. Peter Jackson-related companies donated over $30k to Andy Foster. Only $83k was donated in total and $60k of that was to Foster. Most of the big donors from 2016 completely bailed in 2019. I'm not sure why.
Correlation is not causation but the lesson seems to be that you need to spend big to become Mayor, which is a bit grim. However, it's less clear that big money donors can just buy an election. The difference between donations to right-leaning candidates (nearly $300k over 3 elections) and left-leaning candidates (around $30k over 3 elections) is stark but it doesn't automatically buy success. Andy Foster won in 2019 with heavy backing from Peter Jackson but that may have been more about the association with such a big name, which was widely reported. In 2013 and 2016 the big donors on the right actually wasted their money. It would be fascinating to know how both Celia Wade-Brown and Justin Lester managed to spend over $55k in 2013 and 2016 respectively with less than $10k in donations over $1.5k because that appears to be the winning formula if you don't have a few rich mates.
The bottom-line is that if you support a candidate who's unlikely to have people writing $10k cheques for them, and historically those seem to be the more progressive, left-leaning candidates (such as Tory Whanau in this election), you might want to seriously consider donating them whatever you can afford. They'll probably need lots of small donations to be competitive. And you'll need to do that soon so that they can spend that money effectively over the course of the campaign.
Another problem here is that we only find all of this information out well after the election. Apart from what's reported in the news we really don't know who's bank-rolling who until it's too late. Let's call on all Mayoral candidates to be transparent and voluntarily publish any donations received over $1.5k (including donor name and amount) when they receive them, and definitely no later than Friday 16 Sept when voting documents are posted out. Voters deserve to know who's funding you.