Measure G, the residential trash outsourcing referendum that was narrowly defeated by Fresno voters in June, appears to be the single-most expensive election in city history.
The two sides in the pitched battle combined to spend more than $1.26 million to get their respective message out to city voters, according to campaign spending data compiled by The Bee.
Of that, supporters of the privatization effort outspent opponents nearly 3-1 -- and still lost.
"The thing about Measure G is you really did have an arms race on your hands," Fresno State political science professor David Schecter said. "Both sides felt that turnout would be the key and you would have to absolutely saturate the market with as many mailings and television commercials as absolutely possible."
Measure G ended up going down in defeat -- but by just 862 votes. The final tally was 50.73% voting "no" and 49.27% saying "yes."
The Yes on G side raised more than $737,000, which means it spent more than $25 for each of the 29,039 votes it won. And that doesn't include $200,000 that the Fresno County Republican Party spent -- including $150,000 from influential GOP mega-donor Charles T. Munger Jr. -- which many local political watchers felt at least indirectly benefitted the Yes on G side.
At the same time, the No on G side raised a little more than $328,000 to win 29,901 votes. That is close to $11 per vote.
The costs increased because the issue was complicated -- especially for the Yes on G side, Schecter said. That side faced the daunting task of explaining such things as negative fund balances and franchise fees in trying to convince voters that handing trash pickup to a private company was preferable to the status quo.
At the same, he said, the No on G side could build a campaign around stopping potential layoffs, which is an easy-to-understand, emotional issue.
"Without candidates, you really do have to spend a little more on an issue referendum because you are doing a lot of the voter education as you go," Schecter said.
A wild card in this election was the presence of a private company that stood to benefit from the vote -- and was willing to contribute money to the cause.
If the measure had passed, Mid Valley Disposal, a private hauler, would have taken over trash pickup for the city's 105,000 residential customers. The company and its owners contributed close to $380,000 -- more than half the Yes on G campaign funds.
And unions contributed more than $290,000 to the No on G side.
The other big interest group was agriculture, which contributed around $90,000, all to the Yes on G side.
The local spending champion for a single election still is the 2004 Measure Z zoo tax campaign, which trumpeted its "Nosey the elephant" mascot and raised about $1.3 million in cash and noncash contributions. Opponents hardly raised anything.
One local race for political office tops those two measures: Ashley Swearengin and now-Assembly Member Henry T. Perea combined to spend around $1.5 million in their 2008 mayoral contest. But that total covered two races -- the 11-person primary and their one-on-one general election showdown, which Swearengin won.
Other big-dollar local contests include the 2008 Fresno County supervisor election that pitted ultimate winner Debbie Poochigian against Clovis Council Member Nathan Magsig. The tab was more than $1.1 million.
Last year, former Fresno Mayor Jim Patterson and Clovis Council Member Bob Whalen spent more than $630,000 combined to contest the Assembly seat vacated by Linda Halderman. Patterson won.
In 2000, Alan Autry and Dan Whitehurst combined to raise around $600,000 for the Fresno mayor's race, and in 2006 supporters of a 20-year extension of Measure C, the Fresno County transportation sales tax increase first approved in 1986, raised $600,000. Voters approved the extension.
Measure G outstripped most in spending because both sides were very passionate about it, said local Republican consultant Tim Orman, who worked for the Yes on G side and has been part of many Fresno-area races over the years.
Orman said he was "a little bit surprised" by the amount spent in the Measure G battle, but thinks the region could see more high-dollar referendums.
"Cities are looking for ways to economize," he said. "Any time you look to the private sector, the public sector is going to fight it tooth and nail."
The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6320, firstname.lastname@example.org or @johnellis24 on Twitter.