City of Houston

Want A Seat On Houston City Council? That Will Be $11 Per Vote, Please

We looked at how much money each Houston City Council member spent in the 2019 election.

Campaign Spending

Want a spot on Houston’s City Council? You better have cash, and a lot of it. 

Candidates for council routinely spend tens and sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars campaigning for their seats. Winning candidates in 2019 spent a combined total of more than $2.9 million, according to a Houston Public Media review of campaign finance reports. 

At-Large 5 Council Member Sallie Alcorn led a $583,000 campaign, the most expensive of any winning candidate. Incumbent District K Council Member Martha Castex-Tatum’s campaign spent the least of all council members at $34,000. 

“Incumbents spent less per vote in part because the incumbency advantage is so strong, especially in city elections where not a lot of people participate,” said University of Houston political science professor Brandon Rottinghaus. “It gave the incumbents the ability to be able to win without spending as much money as challengers.” 

Rottinghaus pointed to the race for the At-Large 1 seat, in which incumbent Mike Knox was re-elected, as an example. “He had a strong challenger and that made him spend money, but less money overall than other candidates who had open seats,” he said.

With all of Houston City Council’s 16 seats up for election in 2019, four races were decided in November and another 11 in the December runoff election. Candidates who won in the runoff spent an average of roughly $144,000 more than those who won in the general election. 

Candidates for district seats spent an average of about $11 per vote they received, while candidates for at-large positions spent about $2 per vote, according to Houston Public Media’s analysis.

District contests are decided only by residents of the district, but the entire city votes for at-large council members. Expenditures in at-large races are divided among far more people, meaning those candidates see their dollars stretch further, even if they spend more in total. 

“At-large is a challenge because it’s a lot more territory to cover and it requires a lot more buy-in from more different groups,” Rottinghaus said. “So a certain kind of candidate who can really rally across Houston would have an advantage.” 

Click on the map below to see what your City Council member spent this election.

To compare costs between campaigns we added up expenditures from Jan. 1, 2019 through the election. To find an average dollar amount spent per vote, we divided total expenditures within that time frame by the total number of votes each council member received. We excluded expenditures made after the general election for candidates who did not go on to the runoff.

The District B runoff remains unresolved due to a legal challenge — a new council member hasn’t been elected yet, so it’s still unclear how much the winner will spend. 

Below is a breakdown of expenditures for each City Council position.

Amy Peck, District A

Amy Peck

District A

Total Spend (Runoff): $102,888.22

Total Votes: 16,757

Spent Per Vote: $6.14

Abbie Kamin, District C

Abbie Kamin

District C

Total Spend (Runoff): $496,141.48

Total Votes: 31,523

Spent Per Vote: $15.74

Carolyn Evans-Shabazz, District D

Carolyn Evans-Shabazz

District D

Total Spend (Runoff): $81,479.03

Total Votes: 15,847

Spent Per Vote: $5.14

Dave Martin (Incumbent), District E

Dave Martin (Incumbent)

District E

Total Spend (General): $61,278.33

Total Votes: 19,420

Spent Per Vote: $3.16

Tiffany Thomas, District F

Tiffany Thomas

District F

Total Spend (Runoff): $52,094.92

Total Votes: 8,177

Spent Per Vote: $6.37

Greg Travis (Incumbent), District G

Greg Travis (Incumbent)

District G

Total Spend (General): $141,693.21

Total Votes: 19,766

Spent Per Vote: $7.17

Karla Cisneros (Incumbent), District H

Karla Cisneros (Incumbent)

District H

Total Spend (Runoff): $184,620.22

Total Votes: 10,364

Spent Per Vote: $17.81

Robert Gallegos (Incumbent), District I

Robert Gallegos (Incumbent)

District I

Total Spend (General): $126,111.01

Total Votes: 7,246

Spent Per Vote: $17.40

Edward Pollard, District J

Edward Pollard

District J

Total Spend (Runoff): $145,051.23

Total Votes: 5,052

Spent Per Vote: $28.71

Martha Castex-Tatum (Incumbent), District K

Martha Castex-Tatum (Incumbent)

District K

Total Spend (General): $34,386.39

Total Votes: 12,338

Spent Per Vote: $2.79

Mike Knox (Incumbent), At Large 1

Mike Knox (Incumbent)

At Large 1

Total Spend (Runoff): $166,062.31

Total Votes: 174,893

Spent Per Vote: $0.95

David Robinson (Incumbent), At Large 2

David Robinson (Incumbent)

At Large 2

Total Spend (Runoff): $440,395.96

Total Votes: 173,237

Spent Per Vote: $2.54

Michael Kubosh (Incumbent), At Large 3

Michael Kubosh (Incumbent)

At Large 3

Total Spend (Runoff): $174,846.15

Total Votes: 199,160

Spent Per Vote: $0.88

Letitia Plummer, At Large 4

Letitia Plummer

At Large 4

Total Spend (Runoff): $157,046.93

Total Votes: 122,815

Spent Per Vote: $1.28

Sallie Alcorn, At Large 5

Sallie Alcorn

At Large 5

Total Spend (Runoff): $582,975.32

Total Votes: 135,446

Spent Per Vote: $4.30

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