Mo' Money Mo' Councilmembers: July 15th Reports A Helpful Proxy For Legitimacy, Competitiveness

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* Again, Will Wynn is still not on the ballot, which would
have been the best name this year, am I right?

In my last City Council posts on the mayor's race and 10 district races, I promised another update after the July 15th fundraising reports, and suggested that these early numbers would indicate how many of these races are shaping up.

In this early stage, the ability to raise money is a useful proxy for other signs of candidate viability: do people like you and want to help you end up on our City Council, and can you get your act together to file a report in time?

Together, they answer the question of whether a campaign has any infrastructure, in the form of human labor capacity — the importance of which is hard to overstate. Campaigns take energy — for example, those ethics reports are tedious to prepare. And on that front, the reports also provide a useful glimpse into who is being paid to do what on whose campaign.

All in all, raising money is only important if you want to be able to talk with voters.

More below the jump, including a list of who raised what, owes what, and spent how much?!Let's jump into the numbers.

What Everybody Raised, By Office Sought

Here 'tis:



After raising no money, mayoral candidate Nicolas Lucier stated,

“I vow to take no financial contributions in the 2014 Electoral Cycle, in order to remind Austinites, and the population at large, that Statesmanship, is not about the money, and politicians, are not welcome in any of the representative bodies in Texas. “

That's a nice sentiment. However, it's probably not a good strategy if you want to win.


Money Is Important Because Campaigns Cost Money

This is true, and this isn't a bad thing. Staffers like to get paid so they can in turn pay their rent and eat. Personally I was always a fan of not defaulting on my student loans, so when we want to decry money in politics let's first remember that a lot of progressive youths and not-so-youths are getting by on organizer salaries. I digress.

I asked a well-known direct mail consultant, Tom Kelly, roughly what it costs to send 100,000 pieces of mail — a number that is more than enough to contact every voter in any of the single districts but not nearly enough to cover the 250,000 potential voters in the citywide Mayor's race.

100,000 mailers would cost roughly $9,800 to print; $4,200 for data and mailshopping; and about $26,000 for postage, plus sales tax on the printing and mailshop. All together, those 100,000 pieces of mail will run you about $40,000, plus a bit more for sales tax.

As you decrease the size of the universe, the cost-per-piece goes up, so even 25,000 mailers will still cost around $16,000 or so. (That is, of course, if you're using a union print shop. If you're not, expect it to become a problem in the Labor and Democratic Club endorsement process. Just a #protip for y'all out there.)

All in all, if campaigns want to send a few mailers and hire people to work for them — heck, even if they want to print walk sheets — it's going to cost money. So let's talk about who raised what, and who spent what.


Where The Money's Going: Top Districts By Money Raised

Obviously the cadre of mayoral candidates raised the most. Steve Adler raised $366,191.82, and Mike Martinez raised $162,206.73. Sheryl Cole brought in another $93,870, and with the minimal amounts that Todd Phelps and Randall Stephens added, the overall mayoral haul was $624,403. Not a bad chunk of change.

Here's the cumulative money raised in each of the 10 districts. Note: this is raised only, not self-funded.

    District 1: $48,247

    District 2: $16,277

    District 3: $21,204

    District 4: $111,327
    District 5: $64,833
    District 6: $73,452
    District 7: $51,394
    District 8: $90,777
    District 9: $140,158

    District 10: $203,149

District 10 led all other geographies in total funds raised with over $200,000, due in part to three candidates clearing $45,000: Robert Thomas ($52K), Mandy Dealey ($50K), and Sheri Gallo ($45K). Next highest was District 9 with $140,158, led by Chris Riley's $96,851 haul. Finally, District 4 saw over $111,000 be poured into the coffers of six of the nine candidates announced.


By The Districts, By The Numbers

In District 1, Ora Houston is presumed to be the frontrunner owing to her long history of service to the community. She raised over $29,000 — more than the other five candidates combined — and has a campaign manager on the ground. Former candidate DeWayne Lofton finally launched his campaign and raised over $11,000 but it's not clear if he has the time to make up the difference.

In District 2, Delia Garza is a clear front-runner, not just because she managed to raise more money than her opponent — who couldn't even make my monthly student loan payments with his cash on hand — but because she has an impressive campaign operation and widespread community support.

District 3 is more perplexing at this point. The 9 candidates raised a collective $21,204, led by Susana Almanza's $11,170. However, Fred McGhee loaned himself over $12,000 and Shaun Ireland tossed $6,970 into his own campaign, so they too have money to spend. The big X-factor here is turnout. This is a traditionally lower-turnout area, and if the other candidates can marshal a real grassroots operation, money may not matter as much here as it will in the more suburban districts. Keep an eye on Julian Limon Fernandez, of Austin's iconic Limon clan, and Sabino “Pio” Renteria, long-time neighborhood advocate (and brother of Almanza).

As for District 4, lord-or-whatever-you-believe-in have mercy. There are 9 candidates, and they raised a total of $111,000 — in a district that may have the lowest turnout. Former Worker's Defense organizer Greg Casar brought in $40,057; health policy expert Katrina Daniels raised $30,065; and former candidate and anti-flouride activist Dr. Laura Pressley raised $30,430. While that somewhat distinguishes the frontrunners, this race is far from settled. Sharon Mays is also making a solid impression among City Hall watchers, and Marco Mancillas is familiar with the political circuit as well. Are any residents of the district not planning a campaign at this time?

In District 5, former State Rep. Ann Kitchen was the clear fundraising leader, bringing in over $42,000. Former chief of staff for Wendy Davis (yes that Wendy Davis) Daniel Buda raised $14,854 himself. Kitchen also added another $20,700 in loans, while Buda tossed in $5,100. Meanwhile, Republican activist Jason Denny and attorney Dave Floyd are still in the race as well, along with Mike Rodriguez. It's hard not to see Kitchen as the frontrunner here; arguably whatever anti-Kitchen vote exists might well be split between the other opponents.

Up in District 6, which straddles the Travis-Williamson County line, Jay Wiley, Jimmy Flannigan, and Pete Phillips Jr. all raised between $20,000 and $23,000 dollars. Surprisingly, former legislative candidate Matt Stillwell only brought in $7,451. Wiley also added over $11,000 in loans to his coffers. In this district, which could actually elect a Republican, Wiley has emphasized his conservative credentials. Meanwhile, Democrats need to unite behind a candidate to propel into the runoff.

Over in District 7, which runs from Allandale up to Howard Lane and includes large swathes of McNeil all the way over to Dessau Road, Jeb Boyt led the way with $20,338 raised, followed by Jimmy Paver, who brought in $18,581. No one else cracked $7,000. Paver added a $40,000 loan to his campaign, while Ed English gave himself $10,000.

Down in District 8, which includes southwest Austin, five serious candidates combined to raise over $90,000 led by previous candidate Darrell Pierce's $36,617 haul. Ellen Troxclair and former candidate Eliza May also raised around $18,000 each, while Becky Bray loaned herself $50,000. Ed Scruggs raised over $9,000 and added over $6,000 in loans.

In District 9, where sitting councilmembers Chris Riley and Kathie Tovo will square off along with newcomer Erin McGann, Riley led the pack with $96,861 raised. Tovo raised $41,332, and now has $76,807 in outstanding loans, though over $60,000 is leftover from her 2011 campaign effort. Despite raising more than twice as much as Tovo, Riley kept his expenditures lower and has over a 2-to-1 cash-on-hand advantage.

Last but in the minds of Tarrytowners certainly not least, District 10 saw the largest aggregate raise of over $200,000 flowing into nine campaign accounts. As noted above, three candidates raised more than $45K apiece (Dealey, Gallo, and Thomas). Thomas supplemented his funds with a $100,000 cash loan. This district will likely have the highest turnout, but with so many candidates vying for a spot in the inevitable runoff this race will remain challenging. Adding to the chaos was the late entry of former candidate Jason Meeker, who may challenge Dealey for hardcore Democratic votes.


Hey Big Spender!


Seriously one of the best Simpsons moments of all time.

They weren't blowing in on blenders or rainbow suspenders, but the big spenders on the first report largely used their campaign funds to build organizational capacity — which, again, is crucial to winning an election.

Steve Adler spent over $268,000, primarily on staff salaries, event expenses, and a few big ticket items: over $38,000 to the Smoot Tewes Group, a firm of Obama alums based in DC, whom he hired for “campaign strategy and analytical consulting,” and a $40,400 poll by Anzalone Liszt Grove Research, a major Democratic polling firm. To his credit, Adler is also paying payroll taxes for his salaried employees, which will make life much easier for his staff when they pay their taxes at the end of the year.

Fellow Mayoral candidate Mike Martinez spent $54K primarily on staff salaries, with a bit more going to campaign office rent, paraphernalia, and campaign events. It's a pretty lean expenditure report.

Leanest of all was Sheryl Cole's report, on which she spent only $6,763. Cole raised $93,870 but her abstemious spending helps keep her competitive, financially. Realistically, Cole has a sizable advantage in that currently hers is the only female name on the ballot in a year that portends well for women in Texas — and since all campaigns are going to be challenged in terms of paying for direct voter contact in a universe of over 200,000 voters, that's a bonus that should not be underestimated.

Otherwise, the Big Spender club includes some familiar names — District 5 candidate and former State Rep. Ann Kitchen ($54K), District 9 candidate and current council member Kathie Tovo ($39K), her District 9 opponent and current council member Chris Riley ($34K), and District 10 candidate Mandy Dealey ($28K). The bulk of these expenses? Staff, more staff, websites, digital advertising, printing, and schwag.

Staff is the bulk of the cost here — and again, that's a sign that these campaigns are running hard, building capacity, and working hard to reach out to community leaders and rank-and-file voters alike. It's also worth noting that Kitchen, Tovo, Riley, and Dealey have all sought office before — all have held office save Dealey, and all have campaigned for City Council save Kitchen. So it's not a huge surprise to see these four going hard out of the gate.


The New Arrivals and An Early Departure

Shortly after the June 30th deadline, several candidates threw their names in the hat. Because they announced (and, one assumes, designated a treasurer) after June 30th they don't have to report funds raised or spent until late September.

Leslie Pool jumped in to District 7, Christopher Hutchins declared for District 1, David Senecal tossed his hat in the District 5 ring, and Franko Guajardo entered the District 3 fray. Meanwhile, Gabe Rojas dropped out of District 4, promising to possibly run again in the future.

For candidates that expect to have fundraising trouble or who don't want to play the early expectation game, jumping in late was a smart move. Now they have two months to organize without fundraising numbers factoring in to their perceived viability.


Raised, Spent, Retained, and Loaned Across All Candidates Filing Reports:

For the TL,DR crowd, here are the big numbers:

    Total Raised By June 30th: $1,445,225.32

    Total Spent by June 30th: $693,203.74
    Total Cash On Hand By June 30th: $1,206,513.33

    Total Self-Loans Outstanding by June 30th: $622,603*

    Upside Down: Candidates in District 3 and 7 collectively loaned themselves more than they collectively raised.

*Kathie Tovo had over $60,000 in loans outstanding from her first campaign, which is included in this figure.

It's a big chunk of change, and for a city of this size in a November electorate that's to be expected. Now, let's see who can keep it up — and what they spend it on.

Want to compare what everybody raised — as in raised from other people, not gave to themselves — on the July 15 report, sorted across all races? Click here.

I'll be back with another update once it's merited. In the meantime, keep your eyes on BOR's Austin City Council candidate tracker page!

Special thanks to tireless BOR Intern Katie “Council Candidate Factivist” Singh who compiled this data and maintains our candidate tracker.  

About Author

Katherine Haenschen

Katherine Haenschen is a PhD candidate at the University of Texas, where she studies political participation on digital media. She has previously managed successful candidate, issue, voter registration, and GOTV campaigns in Austin. In addition to serving as the president of Austin Young Democrats, she is also UCONN's #1 fan in Texas.

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