Michael Nutter spent $6.8 million in his two-year run for mayor, reversing a 20-year trend of ever-more-expensive campaigns for the city's highest office.
Nutter's winning campaign cost just half the $13.6 million that John Street spent to get re-elected four years ago, according to post-election figures submitted yesterday to city election officials.
Taking inflation into account, Nutter's win was the least expensive since Wilson Goode won re-election in 1987. Goode spent $3.6 million in that race, the equivalent of $6.6 million in 2007 dollars, based on changes in the Consumer Price Index.
The cost of television advertising in the Philadelphia market, however, has climbed much more quickly than general inflation over the past 20 years, according to Nutter's media consultant, Neal Oxman of The Campaign Group.
"If you went into the bowels of Channel 6 and found all their rate cards from 1980 to 2007, your jaw would drop open," Oxman said. "The costs of those [ads] has gone up 5 to 10 times, to deliver less of an audience."
This year's costs were held down by several factors:
* New limits on campaign contributions - approved by City Council after a pay-to-play scandal that eventually sent the city treasurer to prison - restricted individual donations for the first time in the city's history. The maximum contribution for individuals was set at $5,000. For law firms, political action committees and other non-corporate entities, the limit was $20,000.
* New rules for city contracting put even more restrictions on people interested in no-bid city contracts. Some potential contractors chose not to contribute at all.
* After a competitive five-way primary for the Democratic nomination, Nutter held such a commanding lead over Republican candidate Al Taubenberger that he was able to minimize his TV advertising in the fall campaign, saving millions of dollars.
In the latest round of campaign finance reports, filed yesterday with city election officials, Nutter listed $382,102 in donations in the last two weeks of the campaign, more than twice what Taubenberger raised all year. Taubenberger spent a total of $150,035.
In a telephone interview yesterday, Taubenberger said the city's new campaign finance rules "will make it very difficult for a Republican to mount a significant challenge" in a citywide race.
"In this town, with fewer Republican donors, you need more dollars from them to be successful," Taubenberger said. "A lot of people believe that as long as you have transparency, why have limitations at all? I'd be in favor of raising them or doing away with them."
The state Supreme Court is considering a challenge to the city's contribution limits, based on the theory that state election law does not permit the city to impose its own contribution rules.
The court is expected to rule by the end of the year. *