3 commission races each produce donations exceeding $100,000


Published: Friday, October 26, 2012 at 9:50 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, October 26, 2012 at 9:50 p.m.

Times may be tough economically, but many people are still managing to scrounge up some money to help local political candidates.

Facts

Comparing contributions over the years

Monetary contributions raised by general election County Commission candidates only (not primary-only candidates):

2012 election:

District 1: $116,274

District 3: $140,231

District 5: $115,076

2010:

District 2: $99,519

District 4: $64,751

2008:

District 1: $87,873

District 3: $27,123

District 5: $67,732

2006:

District 2: $115,030

District 4: $36,588

2004:

District 1: $80,837

District 3: $107,025

District 5: $63,117

Each of the three County Commission races has had over $100,000 raised for the candidates over the course of their campaigns: $140,231 raised for candidates in District 3, $116,274 raised for candidates in District 1, and $115,076 for candidates in District 5.

That’s more than commission campaigns have raised since at least before the 2004 presidential election, according to Alachua County Supervisor of Elections records.

People have poured the most money into the District 3 race, with $140,231 raised among the three candidates. Democrat Robert “Hutch” Hutchinson, who campaigned in a primary, has raised most of that sum with $94,666 in monetary contributions. Republican Jean Calderwood has raised $45,165, and write-in candidate Bryan C. “Buck” Buchanan has raised $400.

The remaining commission races have raised nearly the same amount among their respective general election candidates, with totals of $116,274 for District 1 and $115,076 for District 5.

Incumbent commissioner and Democrat Mike Byerly and Republican John Martin are competing for the District 1 seat, while Republican and first-time candidate Dean Cheshire, Democrat and state Rep. Charles S. “Chuck” Chestnut IV and no-party-affiliation candidate K. Siva Prasad are running in District 5.

In previous commission elections, the general election candidates for individual races have typically raised under $100,000 in combined contributions.

Cheshire said people are eager to give money to commission candidates in this election cycle because they have a strong desire for change in the local community.

“I have met literally hundreds of people on the campaign trail who have said, ‘Either something changes in Alachua County, or we’re going to choose to live elsewhere,’ ” he said.

People are giving more than usual compared to previous commission elections.

In the 2010 gubernatorial election, neither commission race cracked that $100,000 total, although the District 2 race came close with $99,519 in contributions, according to Supervisor of Elections records. Like the 2012 District 3 race, most of that money was raised by a single candidate: Democratic Commissioner Lee Pinkoson, who raised about $88,000.

The District 4 race of the same year, in which Republican Commissioner Susan Baird was elected, raised $64,751.

In the 2008 presidential election, none of the three commission races raised more than $100,000, with the District 1 race that Byerly won garnering the highest total of $87,873 in monetary contributions.

Although the 2006 gubernatorial and 2004 presidential elections both had commission races that cracked $100,000 in total contributions, only one race from each topped that figure.

In 2006, it was District 2 with about $115,000 raised in total that, once again, largely came from Pinkoson’s campaign. The District 4 race that Democrat Cynthia Moore Chestnut won that year raised just $36,588 in comparison.

In 2004, it was the District 3 race that Democratic Commissioner Paula DeLaney won that stood out with $107,025 raised in total.

Pinkoson said fundraising is most important in helping establish a candidate’s name recognition. If people don’t know who you are, they aren’t likely to vote for you, he said.

“Getting your message out there isn’t cheap,” he said.

The high levels of contributions in this election and to his campaigns in the past show that people understand local politics has a direct impact on their lives and want a say in who represents them, Pinkoson said.

Chestnut, who has run in local and state elections, was surprised by the high totals raised for this year’s commission races. While state legislative races typically see contributions surpassing $100,000 due to lobbying interests and the higher allowable donations of $500 compared to the Alachua County limit of $250, local races don’t usually attract big bucks, he said.

He expects such races to raise totals of between $50,000 and $70,000 tops, not $100,000.

In the past, Chestnut said he’s seen some voters shun local candidates with big campaign accounts out of a sense that these candidates were trying to buy the election.

“I think that it is a mistrust among a lot of folks when it takes that kind of money locally to run a County Commission race,” he said.

Pinkoson agreed that some people have viewed candidates attracting top-dollar contributions negatively in past elections. But that mistrust has much to do with the quality of the contributions, not just the sum.

Candidates attracting business donations but not individual ones or maximum contributions of $250 instead of smaller sums may inspire more wariness among some voters, he said.

Fundraising is the worst part of campaigning in his opinion, but necessary.

“There is nothing more humbling than having to ask people for money,” Pinkoson said.

The 2012 commission races have all raised above $100,000 in total, but the kinds of contributions raised by the respective candidates in each race differ.

Mike Wright, a retired programmer who previously worked at the University of Florida, breaks down campaign contributions by various categories for county races on the Buyers Guide website, located at www.thebuyersguide.org. His wife, Susan, who died in 2007, started the website in 2000 to give voters an unbiased look at local campaign fundraising.

The Republican candidates for all three races received more contributions from businesses than their Democratic opponents, with Cheshire receiving the most at $20,400, according to the Buyers Guide. The biggest disparity was in District 1, where Martin received $14,500 in business contributions compared to $300 for Byerly.

The candidates also differ in the average contribution amount they have received, according to the Buyers Guide. For example, Martin’s average contribution is $153 to Byerly’s $84 while Calderwood’s is $148 to Hutchinson’s $85. Cheshire gets $179 compared to Chestnut’s average contribution of $109.

Although Hutchinson has far outraised Calderwood, particularly because of his competitive primary election, Martin and Cheshire have attracted more money than their opponents in their respective races.

Martin has raised a total of $70,465 in monetary contributions to Byerly’s total of $45,809, while Cheshire has raised $71,545 compared to $39,821 for Chestnut and $3,710 for Prasad, according to Supervisor of Elections records.

Contact Morgan Watkins at 338-3104 or morgan.watkins@gvillesun.com.

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