The cost of Ralston’s reelection: Nearly $1 million

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House Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) had opposition for the first time in 10 years when he ran in the May 20 Republican primary for another term in the Legislature.

Although his opponent, Sam Snider, was an obscure high school wrestling coach from Gilmer County, Ralston spared no expense in running for reelection.

In fact, campaign disclosure reports show that Ralston spent $937,670 during this election cycle that saw him defeat Snider and secure his return to the Georgia House of Representatives for two more years.

The contrast between the two campaigns in terms of the money spent was striking. While Ralston spent nearly $1 million to retain his seat, Snider spent a total of just $24,980 – or about one dollar for every 37 dollars spent by Ralston.

The expense of winning another term had a major impact on Ralston’s campaign account. He reported raising $1,289,550 during this election cycle, but when the votes had been counted and Ralston declared the winner, his bank balance had been whittled down to $351,879.

“Sam Snider took a big chunk of change out of Ralston’s war chest,” observed Margaret Williamson of Ellijay, a member of the Gilmer County Tea Party.

The Ralston-Snider race was a bitterly contested primary as tea party activists from within the legislative district and other parts of the state campaigned for Snider to upset the speaker, one of the most powerful men at the state capitol.

Ralston opened up his pocketbook and used the weapons of modern campaign warfare to turn back Snider’s election challenge.

A review of Ralston’s campaign reports shows that early on he paid the Sassafras Group of Gainesville $37,811 to raise funds for his race. He spent nearly $40,000 to have Public Opinion Strategies run some polls for him.

But the big-ticket item was advertising, whether it was mailers, newspaper ads, or broadcast commercials: Ralston’s campaign spent nearly $309,000 on the various forms.

Snider’s advertising outlays for a couple of mailers and some local newspaper ads was the more modest amount of $19,010.

While the amount of money spent was large, Ralston’s bottom line was the one sought by every political candidate: he won his race against Snider with 64.7 percent of the vote.

“Georgians have said they are too busy reaching for the next level of greatness to wallow around in the cesspool of anger and bitterness and negativity,” Ralston said after the election. “Just as they have said ‘yes’ to the promise of a brighter day, they have said ‘no’ to the politics of personal destruction.”

Another legislative incumbent with a lot of money, state Sen. Don Balfour (R-Snellville), spent much less than Ralston did and finished third in the Republican primary, ending his Senate career after 22 years.

Balfour raised a total of $839,774 in this election cycle, but spent only $198,372 during his primary campaign.

As of June 30, Balfour reported he still had $641,401 in his campaign account – but no new term in office.

UPDATE:

Joel McElhannon, whose Parlay Political firm consulted on Ralston’s campaign, sent this note of clarification:

A careful review of his campaign expenditures (attached in an excel file) shows that from the date that Snider made a public announcement of his intention to run (September 20, 2013) Ralston spent $547,950.47 on re-election efforts.

Speaker Ralston spends large sums every cycle in contributions to other House members and political leaders and groups he supports. He also covers many of his travel expenses for official and caucus related efforts. I would note that he has many expenses paid for by campaign funds that some could argue are legitimate expenses for the taxpayers to cover. Yet Speaker Ralston insists on paying for them from campaign funds.

In the attached sheet, I pulled the expenditures from the campaign reports covering the time of the actual campaign (Sept 20, 2013 – May 20, 2014) and broke out contributions to other campaigns, travel expenses not related to the campaign, and actual campaign expenses.

As you will see, the actual expenditures on the 2014 primary campaign are roughly half what your article claims.

Further, it is simply not accurate to compare spending by the Ralston campaign to spending by the Snider campaign.

As you know the Georgia Integrity Project spent a large sum of money from anonymous donors in a vicious attack campaign against Speaker Ralston. In my 20 years of running professional campaigns, I have never seen anything as personally negative and ultimately ineffective as their ridiculous effort.

Interestingly these very vocal advocates of “ethics reform” refuse to disclose their donors or their expenditures. Ultimately they will have to file with the IRS their expenditures, but they have not done so yet nor have they voluntarily released this information.

Where is the outrage from “ethics” groups about this obvious hypocrisy?

I can attest to spending by this group in excess of $200,000 on cable, radio, robocalls and mailers that I tabulated throughout the race. Who gave this money? Why did they give this money? Who profited from this?

The silence is deafening and the hypocrisy is shameful.

In my opinion, your report does not factually represent the actual spending or events of the House 7 primary this past May. I hope you will review this information and correct the record.

While some Snider supporters continue to live in a delusional fantasy world where they are some kind of victim of the political process, the truth is that Speaker Ralston spent a proportional amount of money to defend his good name against an unprecedented, six figure smear campaign by anonymous money from outside of the district.

That effort failed due to its poor execution and outrageously false smears.

I hope you’ll help correct the record on yet another falsehood about Speaker David Ralston.

© 2014 by The Georgia Report

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Tags: David Ralston , Don Balfour , Republican primary , Sam Snider