Who’ll put up all that money for mayoral campaigns?

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A piece I wrote in last week’s Business Journal, in which both mayoral candidates and political operatives agreed that an effective campaign would cost as much as $500,000, left one question unanswered:

Where would the money come from?

In past years, candidates vied for endorsements from four powerful business groups: the Pikes Peak Association of Realtors, the Housing and Building Association, the Chamber of Commerce, and a loose coalition of developers and other local business heavyweights.

Each of those endorsements loosened purse strings.

An endorsement from the HBA, for example, meant that a candidate would receive dozens of campaign contributions from association members, including not only builders but subcontractors such as framers, foundation contractors, plumbers, landscape architects, engineers, haulers and electricians.

The PPAR’s nod would pull generous contributions from scores of Realtors, while the Chamber’s blessing would sway owners and employees of businesses throughout the city.

In addition, the HBA and the PPAR would often provide political consulting and campaign management, as well as substantial funding from the associations themselves.

It was a simple, understandable campaign model. You knew who to call. Get endorsed by all four organizations, dry up funding sources for your opponents, sit back, and write your gracious victory speech.

But that model is now all-but dead.

Of the dozens of power players who contributed to municipal campaigns in 2003 or 2007, few remain. Gone are the big developers, the major builders, the overleveraged dreamers and the underfinanced schemers. Gone too are their satellites; the mortgage brokers, Realtors, subcontractors and builders who once employed thousands.

During the fiercely contested mayoral race of 2003, the four leading candidates raised and spent a total of $378,000.

This year’s pack of hopeful Hizzoners may need to raise $500,000 apiece, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be successful in doing so. The mayoral race may seem like a big deal to us, but as far as the political world is concerned, it’s a local non-partisan contest of little importance statewide.

The new mayor won’t change legislative majorities at the Capitol, affect redistricting, or make decisions with significant state political impact. The race is non-partisan by charter mandate, so no candidate can count on or solicit support from Republican or Democratic hierarchies.

Will that matter? Won’t the candidates be able to divert some of the millions that flowed to statehouse candidates last fall to their campaigns?

Actually, no, because that money’s been spent. The shadowy 527s that provided it have faded away, empty shells ready to restart in 2012 — but not before.

The successful candidate will have to raise money from hundreds of individual local contributors, as well as tap in to the deep pockets of the whales that are still able to write the big checks. And that’s not all.

“Candidates will have to self-finance,” said council candidate Tim Leigh, who once considered running for mayor.

Brian Bahr has already put up $100,000 of his own money, and has committed to match the first $100,000 raised by the campaign from other contributors. As of Dec. 1, he’d raised and matched a further $12,360.

Buddy Gilmore loaned his campaign $10,000, while Dave Munger kicked in $1,000.

Steve Bach and Richard Skorman, both recent entrants in the race, have yet to file campaign finance reports with the City Clerk. Such reports are due on the first day of every month prior to the election.

So far, Bahr’s the boss. His contributors include Copper Ridge developer Gary Erickson and his spouse, Donna, who each contributed $2,500, and uber-conservative retired businessman Joe Woodford, who coughed up $1,000.

Time is not on anyone’s side. Mail ballots will be sent out in 71 days. At this point, it seems that only Bahr has a sense of urgency, a staffed and structured campaign, a decent campaign website and money in the bank. Bach, Gilmore, Munger, Skorman: you’d better scoop up some chips if you’re going to play in this particular game.

Let me see: assuming you’ll each need about $500,000, that works out to $7,042.25 raised each and every day until March 11.

That includes Sundays, holidays, snow days and sick days.

Hazlehurst can be reached at john.hazlehurst@csbj.com or 719-227-5861. Watch him at 7:45 a.m. every Tuesday and Friday on Channel 3, Fox Morning News.

One Response to Who’ll put up all that money for mayoral campaigns?

  1. >> During the fiercely contested mayoral race of 2003, the four leading candidates raised and spent a total of $378,000. …. This year’s pack of hopeful Hizzoners may need to raise $500,000 apiece,

    ………. last time the total was $378k & now EACH GUY needs $500k ? Good luck raising THAT kind of dough ! How many yard signs can ya put UP in thjis town ?

    Like it'll matter .....
    January 8, 2011 at 8:07 am