Capitol Alert
The go-to source for news on California policy and politics
By Jim Miller
03/15/2015 – 11:18 PM

Printers churned out tens of millions of dollars’ worth of campaign mailers and signs. Media buyers locked up pricey political airtime at dozens of TV and radio stations around California. Digital marketing companies helped campaigns target ads and videos at voters surfing the Web.

In many respects, California’s last election cycle will go down in history as a snoozer. Gov. Jerry Brown cruised to re-election. Only 42 percent of voters showed up in November, something of an improvement over the dismal 25 percent turnout in June.

But the past two years were anything but ho-hum for the hundreds of consultants, fundraisers, pollsters, media buyers and various campaign operatives that collectively netted almost $300 million from campaign committees for state offices and initiatives, according to a Sacramento Bee review of records filed with the secretary of state last month. The total doesn’t include tens of millions in additional campaign dollars that went to TV stations, postage and taxes – or spending on high-profile congressional races such as the face-off between Democratic Rep. Ami Bera and Republican Doug Ose.

California’s campaign payday rolled across Sacramento and other cities, as well as more than three-dozen states and east to Washington, D.C., during an election cycle that featured multiple open seats, same-party runoffs, and the increasing role of outside spending groups. Web companies and online targeting firms, meanwhile, received a growing share of the business.

“Any way you could have spent money on a campaign 30 years ago, that still exists,” said Sasha Issenberg, author of “The Victory Lab,” a book on modern political campaigns. “But now you have this whole new set of categories you can spend money on, all in the realm of digital.”

Politicians and campaigns that once could reach the vast majority of voters with a mix of TV, mail and radio increasingly confront a fragmented media landscape that requires more specialists, even for races far down the ballot, said Issenberg, a fellow at UCLA’s Center for Civil Society. “People are clearly spending more money on campaigns,” he said.

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