Opponents of a citywide referendum to adopt a form of rent control in Maine’s largest city spent $21.24 for every vote it received during its successful campaign, according to finance reports filed Dec. 19 at Portland City Hall.

Fueled by out-of-state donations, Say No To Rent Control spent more than $285,000 in its successful bid to defeat a citizen initiative to cap rent increases to the rate of inflation and make it more difficult for a landlord to evict a tenant. It would have also established a special panel to oversee the city’s rental market.

That sum dwarf’s what proponents spent. Fair Rent Portland spent just under $13,000, which equates to $1.71 per vote.

Say No To Rent Control’s Campaign Manager Lance Dutson said he doesn’t really look to the cost of each vote to determine the efficiency of a campaign. “The vote total is the only thing that matters. There’s no such thing as an efficient losing campaign,” Dutson said.

In the end, opponents crushed the measure at the ballot box, winning nearly 64 percent of the vote, 13,446 to 7,597. It was a remarkable win in a city where nearly 60 percent of residents are renters. Also, about half of the city’s rental units are on the peninsula, where 54 percent of voters there voted against it.

“A big part of the art of campaigns is the ability to raise money. And fundraising is a reflection of the level of support a campaign has,” he said. “If a campaign can’t raise money, it means they don’t have support. This was reflected in the rent control campaign through both the fundraising totals and the final vote. Fair Rent Portland failed to garner even a reasonable number of low-dollar donations because their proposal was flawed and unpopular, even within the most liberal wards in the city.”

While that may have held true for Portland’s Question 2, which would have changed the way the city rezones properties to accommodate new development, it was not the case in the three-way race for an at large seat on the City Council.

In that race, challenger Bree LeCasse raised and spent far more money than 16-year incumbent Jill Duson and newcomer Joey Brunelle. But Despite spending nearly $51,000, LaCasse ended up in third place with 26 percent of the vote, while Duson received 44 percent and Brunelle received 30 percent.

LaCasse spent $9.95 for each of the 5,108 votes she received. Duson spent just under $30,000, or $3.49 for each of her 8,957 votes. And Brunelle spent about $13,900, or $2.37 for each of his 5,866 votes.

CLOSER MARGIN OF VICTORY

Meanwhile, two groups that were working to defeat a second citizens’ referendum that would have changed the city’s process for rezoning properties to accommodate new developments also vastly outspent proponents. That proposal would have allowed neighbors to block a change from being adopted by the council.

One Portland and No on Question 2 Portland spent a combined total of $109,840 to defeat the measure. That works out to about $10.09 per vote. But the margin of victory was much closer than Question 1 on the city ballot. Opponents only earned 52 percent of the vote, or 10,888 to 9,748, against Give Neighborhoods A Voice, which apparently did not spend the $5,000 needed to formally register at City Hall.

David Farmer, a consultant who worked on the One Portland campaign, which spent nearly $87,800, said that “there’s no magic number” for how much money a campaign should spend per vote, since there are too many variables at play, especially in an off-year election. What’s really important is voter turnout and the final vote tally, he said.

“Every election is different and every question starts in a different place,” Farmer said. “If you want to understand the dynamics of a campaign, you have to know where things started and then look at how they ended up. In both of the Portland questions, the proponents started with leads that faded away once voters received more information.”

Randy Billings can be reached at 791-6346 or at:

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