By: Mark Glennon*

 

$54.5 million of state money went into the 2010 Neighborhood Recovery Initiative — Pat Quinn’s troubled “anti-violence” program. Critics say it was political slush fund actually used to get out the vote for Quinn.

 

Assuming the money was misused that way, did it work? What was the effect? Would that have been enough to put Quinn over the top? Quinn won in 2010 by a very slim margin — 31,834 votes out of a total of 3.7 million votes cast.

 

There are at least two ways you can try answer those questions, and they point in different directions. You make the call.

 

Today, the Sun-Times published a detailed analysis of one approach indicating that NRI money, if indeed it was misused, did not make a big enough difference to change the election outcome. Their analysis compared voter registration and turnout data in the 2006 election in which Rod Blagojevich beat Judy Topinka to the 2010 election where Quinn beat Bill Brady. That approach indicates that “the increase in raw votes between 2006 and 2010 in those areas amounted to a combined 14,468 — less than half of the governor’s winning margin” over Brady. In other words, NRI had an impact but not enough to win it for Quinn.

 

That’s certainly important, useful evidence, but it’s definitely not conclusive. As the article says, quoting one expert: “At the same time, what if the money had not been there? How much of a hit would they have taken? Obviously, that’s pure speculation.” Comparing the Blagojevich-Topinka race to Quinn-Brady may be comparing apples to oranges, or maybe not. Other factors may have been at work, or maybe not.

 

We earlier wrote up a different approach, asking how many votes Quinn could be expected to have gotten for $54 million. For that we considered how much candidates typically have to spend per vote they end up getting. Obama’s campaign spending in 2012 was $17 per vote that he got and Romney’s was about $20. In this Spring’s primary, Bruce Rauner spent what’s considered a very high $47 per vote to overcome his initial no-name status. Research on the effectiveness of things like leafleting, door-to-door workers, paid phone calls and the like says they generally return roughly one vote for every $10 to $50 spent.

 

Looking at it that way sure does indicate that $54 million would be enough to win the election, we said, easily. Even for a very high $100 per vote, Quinn would pick up 500,000 votes for that $50M. Or, looking at it differently, Quinn could have spent an astronomical $1,500 per vote to get the 32,000 votes he needed to win.

 

For $1,500 per vote you could probably find 32,000 Chicagoans who would vote for Mrs. O’Leary’s cow, I said in that earlier article.

 

But maybe that’s my bias. Beyond despising Quinn, in my real job I work mostly with companies that live or die by metrics, especially customer acquisition cost, and that’s how I think about things. Most companies can reliably determine how much they need to spend to add new customers. It would be nice to think that voters aren’t acquired by how much candidates spend, but it seems clear to me that campaigns are much the same when it comes to paying for door-to-door workers, leafleting and driving voters to the polls.  Ask yourself how hard it would have been in 2010 for somebody in a tough neighborhood, like the ones where NRI money was spent, to hustle up people to vote for Quinn for $1,500 each, especially if they were willing to break the law.

 

That approach isn’t conclusive, either. Like I said, you be the judge, but I’m comfortable with our earlier conclusion: Pat Quinn stole the 2010 election using taxpayer money.

 

*Mark Glennon is founder of WirePoints and Managing Director of Ninth Street Advisors