Monday, September 2, 2013

Following The Money: Who's Got What as the City Council Campaigns Heat Up

Posted By on Mon, Sep 2, 2013 at 9:00 AM

Last week’s primary election was perhaps the sleepiest in The Range's memory. All five candidates on the ballot ran unopposed, so suspense was in short supply on Election Day.

’Twas a time in this town, not so long ago, that primaries were the best slugfests of the election cycle, given that Democrats have such a big voter-registration advantage in general elections.

This year, all the action will be on the Nov. 5 ballot. As it now stands, Democratic incumbent Karin Uhlich will face a rematch against Republican Ben Buehler-Garcia (who lost to Uhlich by fewer than 200 votes in 2009) and Democratic incumbent Richard Fimbres will face Republican newcomer Mike Polak. Ward 6 Democratic incumbent Steve Kozachik will be unopposed.

Far more interesting than the primary results last week were the campaign-finance reports covering fundraising and spending through Aug. 15, which reveal a lot about the candidates’ relative strengths and weaknesses.

As we’ve mentioned before, one major campaign-finance milestone is qualifying for public matching funds. Once candidates have gathered 200 contributions of at least $10 from city residents, they’re eligible for a dollar-for-dollar match of everything they raise.

Here’s the deal for candidates who participate in the matching-funds program, however: They have to limit their spending this year to roughly $115,000. That means once candidates have raised about $58,000 and qualified for matching funds, they no longer have to spend time begging for dollars.

It’s clear from looking over the reports that Republicans are placing their bets on Buehler-Garcia. As of mid-August, he’d raised more than $53,000 and still had roughly $42,500 left in the bank. But he hadn’t yet applied for matching funds; his latest report shows that he’s received just 97 contributions from city residents, so he may have to do a few more Twitterthons to get across the finish line. (UPDATED: Buehler-Garcia sent us an email this morning to let us know that he's actually over the top on the 200 contributions and is doing some final accounting before filing his application for matching funds.)

Uhlich, who has represented northside Ward 3 for two terms, has already qualified for matching funds. She had raised roughly $43,500 in private contributions, so she was within $15,000, give or take, of wrapping up her fundraising.

Uhlich had received $21,773 from the city, taking her total campaign warchest to more than $65,000. She had spent about $30,000, leaving about $35,500 in the bank. And she was still eligible for more than $21,000 in matching funds whenever she wants to tap that supply.

It’s a different story in Ward 5. Fimbres, who is completing his first term representing southside Ward 5, has already qualified for public matching funds, although he hasn’t requested any yet. He’d raised about $37,500 in private funds and spent about $11,000, leaving him with about $26,700 in the bank.

His GOP opponent, Mike Polak, was way behind in the fundraising race. He’d raised just $7,645 and spent $6,468. Of that, $1,160 of that going to Jim Kelley, an occasional politician and blogger who pops up behind the scenes in many unsuccessful GOP campaign efforts. It appears that Kelley's draw from Team Polak is coming to an end; Polak sent out a press release last week thanking Kelley “for his efforts up to the primary, and I look forward to working with my new team for the general election.”

Polak’s report noted that he had 89 contributions from city residents, so he appeared to be a long way from matching funds.

Still left to see: Will some third parties step up to boost any of the campaigns? The Pima County Republican Party isn't much of a force these days, but other interests could drop a bundle on the races, as they have in years past. Stay tuned.

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