By Janice Thompson, Contributing Columnist
The 2012 Portland mayoral primary season started earlier than usual (in the spring of 2011) when two candidates, Eileen Brady and Charlie Hales, formed their political action committees in anticipation of facing Mayor Sam Adams’s reelection bid. Comparatively, when Tom Potter ran for mayor in 2004 his first contribution came on Sept. 29, 2003, even though his major opponent was a City Council member, Jim Francesconi, with significant fundraising capacity.
Taking on an incumbent is tough so presumably Brady and Hales perceived Mayor Adams as more vulnerable than typical Portland incumbents. As reported by Willamette Week in January 2004, City Council incumbents had lost only five times in 121 contests since 1970. After Mayor Adams’ announcement that he wouldn’t run for re-election another candidate, Jefferson Smith, entered the race.
Though there are other mayoral candidates running for election, this analysis will focus on Brady, Hales, and Smith. This article focuses on these three, because, like it or not, the political reality is that viability is linked to fundraising capacity. Brady has raised the most money: $447,085 as reported through Jan. 2, followed by Hales with $249,037, and Smith with $155,358. Hales and Smith have spent less money, so their cash availability is $110,466 and $104,258, respectively, compared to Brady’s $147,959 campaign liquidity. (See Table 1.)
Smith started later than Brady and Hales, hence his current third place spot in the fundraising race. That Smith has the capacity to catch up with his opponents is indicated by his fundraising per day average of $1,425, which compares to daily fundraising averages of $1,796 and $1,107, respectively for Brady and Hales. These daily averages also indicate the role that fundraising plays in how candidates spend their time.
Both Eileen Brady and Jefferson Smith supported Voter-Owned Elections, the campaign finance reform program available to Portland candidates from 2006 through 2010. Portlanders voted out this alternative to private money fundraising by a narrow margin in November 2010. In order for mayoral candidates to qualify for that reform program, they needed to collect at least 1,500 $5 contributions. An emphasis on garnering support from many small dollar donors is reflected in these candidates’ post-reform fundraising. Brady has raised money from an estimated 1,320 contributors followed by estimates of 828 contributors to Smith’s campaign and 473 contributors to Hales’ campaign. (See Table 2.)
The catch is that contributions in amounts of $100 or less, even though they come from many people, comprise relatively small percentages of total fundraising. As reported through Jan. 2, 20 percent of Smith’s total contributions come from an estimated 634 donors who gave $100 or less. This category of small dollar contributions from an estimated 868 donors comprises 10 percent of Brady’s total fundraising. Contributions of $100 or less from an estimated 330 donors comprise 7 percent of total contributions to Hales’ campaign. (See Table 2.)
The domination in 2012 of total fundraising by big contributions indicates a return to a pattern seen prior to the Voter-Owned Elections era from 2006 through 2010. During the 2004 election cycle, 69 percent of the money city candidates raised came from only 602 contributors who wrote checks of $1,000 or more. This small number of contributors represented just 7 percent of total donors.
This pattern has returned to the 2012 mayoral contest with 67 percent of fundraising by Brady, Hales, and Smith through January 2nd coming from just 226 contributors writing checks of $1,000 or more. This small pool of donors thus far represents just 9 percent of total contributors.
Hales’ fundraising campaign is particularly dominated by contributors giving $1,000 or more. Those 45 donors comprise 80 percent of Hales’ total contributions. In Brady’s campaign, contributions of $1,000 or more from 122 donors add up to 65% of her total fundraising coffer Thus far, the Smith campaign is less dominated by large donors with money from 59 donors who gave $1,000 or more, comprising 52 percent of his total contributions. (See Table 2.)
The top 20 contributors to Brady comprise 36 percent of her total fundraising. Brady’s largest contribution is $35,508 from the estate of Brian Rohter’s mother. (Rohter is Brady’s husband.) Brady has also received seven contributions of $10,000 including a check from Brady’s own pocketbook.
The top 20 contributors to Hales comprise 69 percent of his total fundraising. Hales has received two contributions of $25,000, one from investment fund manager David Nierenberg and the other from construction company Stacy & Witbeck. James Kelley, founder of Rejuvenation House Parts, gave $20,000, while real estate investor Albert Solheim gave $10,100. Hales has received four contributions of $10,000 each.
Smith’s campaign has 11 contributors whose donations ranged from $1,020 to $10,000 followed by 48 donors who each wrote checks of $1,000. The financial support of Smith’s top 11 donors comprise just 6 percent of his total fundraising.
Candidates have friends and connections that often cross city and state lines, so contributions from outside of Portland and Oregon shouldn’t be a big surprise. Hales has the largest percentage of contributions thus far coming from outside of Oregon at 31 percent from donors in five other states; most of that support has come from Washington. Twenty-nine percent of Smith’s fundraising to date comes from fourteen other states. Brady’s fundraising campaign includes 12 percent from donors in twelve other states.
Campaigns are not required to list the name or address of contributors who give $100 or less, therefore this geographical analysis includes a location unknown category. Given that Smith’s fundraising in this category is higher than his counterparts’ more of his donors cannot be identified by location. If all the small donors, however, are Oregonians, his percentage of fundraising from within the state increases to 71 percent. Not all Oregon donors, however, are from Portland. Reflecting Smith’s service on the state legislature, a lower percentage of his itemized Oregon donors could be from within the city compared to Brady and Hales. (See Table 3.)
Double giving is when one donor gives financial support to two or more candidates in a race.
Thus far in 2012 mayoral fundraising, 20 contributors have hedged their bets and made contributions to more than one candidate. Some of the “double-giving” to Smith’s could be attributed to his later entry in the race. Nevertheless this trend is troubling given that the contributions seem to be more about ensuring future access to the winner than dedicated support for one candidate. Two donors gave contributions to all three candidates that totaled $4,750. Ten donors gave $28,100 to Brady and Hales while another 8 contributors gave $9,205 to Brady and Smith. (See Table 4.)
Some double givers donate the same amount to each candidate. For example, William Dickey who owns a printing company used by many political campaigns has given $500 each to Brady, Hales, and Smith. The other triple giver, James Winkler of Winkler Development has, thus far, given $2,500 to Brady, $500 to Hales, and $250 to Smith. The most lopsided double giver is railroad car manufacturer Greenbrier Company, which gave $10,000 to Hales and $1,250 to Brady.
The $42,055 in contributions to multiple candidates from double givers comprises 4.2 percent of Brady’s fundraising as reported through January 2, 7.2 percent of fundraising by Hales, and 3.4 percent of Smith’s fundraising thus far. These are lower percentages of the double giving seen in the 2004 contest between Sam Adams and Nick Fish, where the percentage of fundraising from donors who gave to both Adams and Fish ranged from 8.6 percent of primary fundraising by Adams to 12.8 percent of general fundraising by Fish. Regardless of the level of double giving, this contribution pattern seems designed to ensure access no matter who wins and is a trend that merits continued analysis as 2012 mayoral fundraising continues.
The emphasis on support from small dollar donors seen in fundraising by Brady and Smith is laudable. Overall, though, this analysis of 2012 mayoral fundraising looks like an unfortunate return to Portland campaigns dominated by a small number of major donors. Though this may not be the intent of the mayoral candidates, this is the current reality of fundraising in political campaigns.
Election fundraising in Oregon: Oregon candidates in state and local elections can accept campaign contributions of any size from any source. This is in contrast to federal campaigns where contributions from individuals are limited to $2,500 while political action committees can only give $5,000 per election. Direct contributions from corporate treasury dollars to federal candidates are banned.
Independent expenditures are when individuals or groups spend money on advertising without consultation of the candidate they support. Even before the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision independent expenditures could be made by individuals and political action committees. The door opened by Citizens United is that independent expenditures in support or opposing federal candidates can be made using corporate treasury dollars.
Independent expenditures in Oregon are relatively rare in state and local campaigns since there are no limits on direct contributions to candidates.
Campaign contributions and expenditures are reported electronically by campaigns to the Secretary of State and put into a searchable online database called ORESTAR. Each contribution and expenditure must be reported within 30 days and within 7 days in the six weeks prior to an election. This continuous reporting means that the data downloaded from ORESTAR on Jan. 2 for this article will have changed by the time of publication.
About the author: Janice Thompson is the executive director for Common Cause Oregon. She is the former head of Democracy Reform Oregon (which was previously known as the Money in Politics Research Action Project) Common Cause is a nonpartisan, nonprofit advocacy organization founded as a vehicle for citizens to make their voices heard in the political process and to hold their elected leaders accountable to the public interest.