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Common wisdom says that the candidate who spends the most money will win the election.

According to Stephen Leavitt, in his book “Freakonomics,” the most physically attractive and charismatic candidate raises the most money, therefore spends the most money. And he will win the election. An unattractive, uncharismatic candidate will NOT win the election, no matter how much he spends. Enough money can make anyone look good.

Campaigns are expensive. A single lawn sign, the smallest available, costs about $2.00. Larger signs cost $30.  A well-built website runs several hundred dollars.  A bulk mailing of campaign brochures will require thousands. If a candidate buys ad space — billboards, media, or online — the bill will be in the tens of thousands. If a candidate hires a pro to run his campaign, he can go broke. Gone are the days when a smart, qualified layman can do it all by himself.

Successful campaigners accept the costs. George Stewart  raised record sums years ago when he ran for mayor. Lewis Billing raised, and spent, a small fortune to win, and keep his seat.  John Curtis outspent every mayoral candidate who came before him, and he has continued to raise money all during his first term in office, building an impressive war chest for his own PAC, presumably to fund his next campaign.

Real estate PAC money in Provo has made the stakes in elections very high. The  Utah County Board of Realtors, as political stakeholders, are anxious to fund candidates whom they believe will be sympathetic to their interests.  UCAR has become, as one candidate put it, “as much about political activism as (it is) about selling real estate.”   On the wall of their boardroom is a sign which announces, “90% of the candidates we support are elected.”  The association exhibits an attitude of entitlement when it comes to local races; they summon candidates to appear before them, and cannot comprehend when a candidate declines the invitation. This year, some candidates actually turned down Realtors’ PAC money. That scent on the breeze is the smell of rapidly evaporating influence.

So, can an election in Provo be “bought?”  Will the public really just choose the best-looking guy, or the best-looking ads? Are voters no more discerning than that? Do people really NOT pay attention to the issues and voting records? Are they swayed by “image”, which can be purchased? Do special interests determine who will be elected? Should they have that kind of influence? Does the power of money in an election undermine the sovereignty of the people?

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