Despite being outspent, strong mayor opponents gave Columbia vot - - Columbia, South Carolina

Despite being outspent, strong mayor opponents gave Columbia voters a reason to vote no


Voters went to the polls Tuesday and voted down, by a 57 percent to 43 percent margin, a referendum that would have changed the way the City of Columbia governs.

The outcome was a win for opponents who can be considered underdogs when it comes to how much money they spent to get the attention and support of voters.  For most elections, the side with the biggest campaign budget comes out on top but that was not the case with this special election.

Citizens United for a Great Columbia said they brought in contributions totaling just under $28,900. Around $4,000 of that was spent on radio ads and about 1,100 yard signs were also bought, but even those were created at lower than average costs because so much of their campaign revolved around volunteers.

"We were working on a shoestring [budget]," said Kit Smith with Citizens United for a Great Columbia. "Yes we had yard signs, yes we had brochures but they were done by volunteer labor, not by professional people that we were paying."

A spokesman for the group supporting the strong mayor system was unable to provide WIS specific numbers on spending or a member of the group who could appear on camera.

Legal counsel for the State Ethics Commission tells WIS because the election involved non-candidate committees, those organizations are not required to post how much was collected or spent or who funded the initiative.

Former Municipal Association Director Howard Duval, who helped shape the vote no strategy, said he estimates strong mayor supporters spent about $200,000 and $300,000 with some spent on the petition drive that led to Tuesday's referendum vote.

Smith said the "no" side had a better explanation for its position.

"It was different techniques because of the dynamics of our community," Smith said. "We knew when people were educated on this issue, they would tend to vote with us. But people didn't understand it. And having the message from the other side was no information. It was just testimonials. Nikki Haley, Jim Hodges, the State newspaper editorial board saying ‘You need to do this because it's best for your community.'"

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