Billie Redmond is leaving her competitors for mayor far in the distance when it comes to fundraising.
So far, she raised $191,000 to Nancy McFarlane’s $66,000 (discounting McFarlane’s personal loans and contributions of $131,000 to her own campaign) and Randy Williams’ $49,750.
Redmond said the difference in contributions shows she has the widest range of support. But, Board of Elections documents show that at least 49.9 percent of Redmond’s war chest is coming from people and organizations with ties to the development industry.
She is backed by influential political action committees like the NC Realtor PAC and NC Home Builders Association PAC, both of which gave the $4,000 limit.
She also received $2,000 from Singh PAC NC, which is based in Michigan. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, it is also a development PAC.
And it’s not just the PAC’s that are giving. Those with ties to the development who gave personal contributions to Redmond include Sam Longiotti ($4,000), Susan Longiotti ($4,000), RW Mullins ($2,000), Stephen Zelnak ($4,000) and Stephen Kenney ($1,000).
“Too much money from one source is troubling,” said Executive Director of the NC Center for Voter Education Damon Circosta. “When you’ve got a few deep-pocketed donors financing a campaign, the question is, ‘Are they [the candidates] really beholden to the citizenry at-large or just those players.’”
But Redmond, who comes from real estate, maintains she’s beholden to no one.
“How’s it different than officials who focus on their own districts?” Redmond asked. “You have to be fair, honest and transparent. Everybody has conflicts of interest. You deal with them by being honest.”
The level of small, or grassroots, donations in the Raleigh mayoral race tell a different story than the bottom line amount of money being raised by each candidate.
Aggregated contributions account for donations of $50 or less and McFarlane is hammering away in that department. She brought in $4,974 compared to Redmond’s $2,476 and Williams’ $1,375.
McFarlane has a relatively low amount of development money coming in. Her biggest donations from any one contributor have not exceeded $1,000.
Local developer JM Thompson gave $1,000 to McFarlane, as did a dentist, a homemaker and a Progress Energy executive, according to campaign finance reports filed with the county.
McFarlane is her own biggest donor. She has loaned herself $95,000 and donated another $36,000 to her own campaign, according to campaign reports.
Political Science Professor David McLennan at William Peace University said grassroots donations can indicate a broader base of support.
But broad support doesn’t necessarily outweigh the impact of spending.
McLennan added, “If McFarlane hadn’t spent her own money – and just relied on typical campaign contributions – and let Redmond get the momentum going, it may have been impossible for her to catch up.”
“It means a lot,” said McFarlane. “In these tough economic times, for people to give what they can, even if that means $25, that means a lot.”
“Your average voter wants to see a whole lot of support from a whole lot of people,” said Circosta with the Center for Voter Education.
Development money runs through it…
The Raleigh City Council’s main focus now and always is development. Accordingly, Redmond isn’t the only one in on development dollars.
Some contributors have donated to multiple campaigns. Samuel and Theo Bratton of Wake Stone, a company with close ties to development, gave $500 each to Redmond and Williams, as well as $200 each to McFarlane.
John Kane, a local real estate mogul whose company redesigned North Hills, gave $500 to all three campaigns.
The president of commercial real estate corporation Hamilton Merritt Inc. Gregg Sandreuter contributed $500 to both the McFarlane and the Redmond campaign.
And Stephen Kenney of Kenney Properties gave $1,000 each to Williams and Redmond.
Kane, Sandreutter, and Kenney have all given significant amounts in previous city council and mayoral campaigns.
“You see it more in local races,” said McLennan. “They want to have access and perhaps influence over—no matter who wins.”
But even with the development dollars overlapping, Redmond has a decisive fundraising advantage, which could mean a lot if the race comes to a run-off. Redmond still has $51,000 she hasn’t spent. McFarlane is down to $5,700.
It’s not the first time McFarlane has been out-fundraised. When she took the District A city council seat in 2007, she deposed incumbent Republican Tommy Craven, despite the fact her bank account was nearly half the size of his. In that race too, she loaned herself more than half the total funds in her campaign account.