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How 'insane' was campaign spending this year on Seattle's Eastside? Try $180 a vote

Flickr Photo/401 (K) 2012 (CC BY-SA 2.0)

How much is your vote worth? It all depends where you live. If you had the right address on Seattle’s Eastside, it was worth $180 this year.

In suburban Kirkland, Sammamish and Woodinville, campaign donors and moneyed interests poured nearly $9 million into just the race between Republican Jinyoung Englund and Democrat Manka Dhingra for a Washington state Senate seat representing the 45th Legislative District.

It works out to $97 for every registered voter in the district or $180 for every vote actually cast in the Senate contest. (That’s as of Nov. 20 — some votes and campaign-finance reports continue to trickle in to Washington state’s sometimes painfully slow mail-in election.)

It is an unprecedented sum.

“The amount of money in this race is insane,” Dhingra said on election night.

To make some sense of the insanity, go back in time to the same race, but three years ago, the last time the seat was on the ballot. Voters in Kirkland told me they were being deluged by attack ads and fliers.

“Oh God, yeah. I just picked up a pile of them,” voter Steve Meuter said then.

The spending in the 2014 race between Republican incumbent Andy Hill and Democrat Matt Isenhower set a record for campaign cash going into a state legislative race: $2.9 million.

“It’s a horrendous amount of money,” Kirkland voter and small-business owner Dave Nakanishi said at the time.

Tripling the previous record, this year’s money makes 2014 look like child’s play.

Control of the state Senate hinged on just this one district this year. Hill narrowly won the 2014 election, then died last year, triggering this special election.

National political interests ranging from climate-activist billionaire Tom Steyer to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce poured money into the race to determine which party would control what was the only Republican-held legislative chamber on the West Coast.

On election night, Washington state Democratic Party chair Tina Podlodowski uttered a hope that many Republicans and Democrats might echo.

“Hopefully, we will never have to run a legislative race that ever costs this much money again,” she said.

Dhingra will serve out Hill's term, then have to run again next year.

Barring major changes to campaign finance law, the sky will remain the limit on spending aimed at buying your vote.

Washington state does limit individual contributions to candidates, but for attack ads and other spending that isn’t officially part of a candidate’s campaign, the possibilities are limitless.

Year started with KUOW: 2009