"It personally has been a relief to me to know other folks are abiding by it," said second-time candidate and planning commissioner Chris Clark, of news that his five opponents plan to stay under the city's voluntary campaign expenditure limit of $21,388 this year. "You know with a little bit of certainty what your competitors will or won't do."
Since 2000, the city has had a voluntary expenditure limit (VEL), which asks candidates to pledge to a certain spending cap. Most candidates have, though a few did not in 2002. That changed in 2006 when the city began reimbursing over $2,000 in fees for candidates who agree not to spend more than a set amount on such items as mailers, campaign signs and newspaper ads.
"Since the new rule and economic incentive, people have kept their spending way down in the $10,000 to $15,000 range," says Mayor Mike Kasperzak, an incumbent first elected in 1998.
Candidates such as Greg Perry and Tom Means have won seats on council after spending less than $7,000 dollars. Candidates in other cities are known to spend much more, including Sunnyvale Mayor Anthony Spitaleri who spent $56,000 in his 2009 campaign.
The tradition also means less influence by monied interests.
"Especially first time candidates will feel they owe something to those folks," Clark said of big campaign donors. "I don't think your views are influenced or changed but I think you do feel some obligation. You want to prove yourself so they see they believed in you for a reason."
"Candidates spend more time talking about what they are doing rather than trying to out-raise each other," Kasperzak said of the spending cap. When money is seen as crucial in elections, it just escalates, he said. "It becomes kind of like super PACs. If you need a super PAC, I need a super PAC."
"I'm not saying I need a super PAC," he added.
"Quite frankly it was such a pain to raise money in 2008," Clark said of his first attempt. "After the campaign, when I knew I would run again, I started setting aside money each month. Having to raise a lot of money does distract you from the campaign and paying attention to issues you should be learning about."
Clark says he has $13,000 set aside, most of it his own. He hopes to repay himself for early expenses with donations made later.
Campaign mailers are a huge expense, at roughly $1 each. Sending one to each household in the city would blow a candidate through the limit, Kasperzak said. And if that happens, some have noted that there's some shaming that goes on. Clark says it would hurt the reputation of a candidate who would be "at least admonished" by the public or other candidates.
In 2002 council candidate Laura Brown was admonished by her opponents for not sticking to her pledge, going over by $10,000. Brown defended herself in part by saying that she felt she had to do so in order to reach voters and compete with incumbents.
"Can she keep her word? And can she keep to a budget? It doesn't look good on either count," said candidate Greg Perry when the story broke just before the election. Brown lost. Perry won after spending only $7,000. Candidates ever since seem to have taken note.
"I can only think of a few people who exceeded the VEL and those people weren't successful," said incumbent John Inks. He said Mountain View's council campaigns are "not money driven" and that he plans to stay well under the limit as he did in 2008. But he added that "if politics changed, I don't think the VEL would be much of a factor."
Kasperzak notes that it's possible to go over the VEL after the election, as he and Matt Neely did in 2002. Kasperzak said he and Neely only went over because he returned donations that were counted as an expense after the election happened. Election night party expenses can also make an candidate go over after the election, he noted.
Candidate Margaret Capriles said she also supported the VEL, saying in an email that without it "competition then becomes how much money a candidate has versus what the candidate is prepared to do for the citizens of Mountain View."
Paperwork to file for as a candidate for City Council is due to the City Clerk by 5 p.m. on August 10.