Most people will never run for local office. Never experience the behind-the-scenes situations that mold city council campaigns. Examining who and which organizations are behind candidates is just part of being a smart consumer.

Knowing the ins and outs of the lucrative business of local politics can help you make wise voting decisions.

Not long ago, city council races cost as little as $10,000 to $20,000. Today, campaigns can exceed $100,000.

So why spend outrageous money for a job that probably pays less than $25,000 a year? You’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone to admit it, but my observation has been that those who run for office are either ticked off or power driven. A healthy combination of the two makes for a good candidate.


As a candidate, you learn early on to leave your moral fiber at the door and that the people about to enter your life are as mercenary as they come.

Campaign consultants charge anywhere from $25,000 to $35,000-plus, and expect a negotiated bonus if you win.

The average campaign mails three or four mailers, costing anywhere from $11,000 to $15,000-plus per mailing.

Hiring a fundraiser can put you in front of the movers and shakers to raise big dollars. Expect to pay a monthly fee of $1,500-plus and a percentage of what they raise.


By far, the best money a candidate can spend is on hiring a competent campaign treasurer/bookkeeper. These folks specialize in filling out and filing state reporting forms.

Scrutinize campaign contribution reports regularly on your city’s website. Examine the names and companies. If you’re uncomfortable with any names you see or the balance of industry versus private contributors, this candidate is probably not for you.

Campaign season delivers more than money for campaign consultants. A winning candidate equals access and influence.

When it’s not election year, many are consultants for the building industry.

Historically, it’s almost impossible to get elected if you don’t tap into building industry funding and support.

But consultants are hired guns; they work for and against cities, depending on the issue and who hires them. They’re lobbying the same people they helped get elected.

Many question this incestuous relationship and say it’s not a recipe for success for residents of any city.

For example, on the Newport Beach City Council, everyone with the exception of Nancy Gardner has at one time been represented by consultant Dave Ellis.


But those hiring Ellis this round may find him distracted as election day nears. His wife’s arraignment on drunk driving charges is Wednesday. She was arrested July 27 after reportedly leaving the Orange County Fair pulling the “Do you know who my husband is?” routine with the officer.

It’ll be interesting to see where Ellis’ influence lies. My guess is his strategy will start by attacking the officer’s reputation. Oddly enough, his wife’s name was not in the DUI listings regularly posted in the Daily Pilot.

BARBARA VENEZIA is the chairman of the Santa Ana Hts. Redevelopment Project Advisor Committee and was the co-creator of the cooking show “At Home on the Range” with John Crean.