Candidates fill coffers despite down economy

November 3, 2009

By Staff

With phone calls, e-mail blasts and old-fashioned glad-handing, Issaquah city and schools candidates tapped a wide network of donors for cash to keep campaigns cruising ahead.

Despite a tough economy and the number of unopposed races on the city ballot, candidates had outpaced the amount spent on city races in 2007. During the last election cycle — when nine candidates appeared on the ballot in the August primary and seven candidates went on to the general election — challengers raised $32,505. Contrast the total with 2009, when no primary election was needed and eight candidates pulled in more than $58,000 by the last week in October, according to filings with the state Public Disclosure Commission.

Despite the economic downturn, most candidates said the recession had not limited donors’ ability to give.

“The economy has put a ding in a lot of races,” City Council candidate Joan Probala said.

But Probala, who faced incumbent Maureen McCarry, said she had no trouble fundraising. Probala said she was pleased with the amount raised by her campaign: $17,752 by the end of October.

McCarry had raised more by the end of October — $11,509 — than the $10,230 she mustered four years ago, when she was locked in a tight race with Bill Conley. But the City Council incumbent said asking for money had become difficult amid the recession.

“There are higher priorities in people’s lives right now, and I respect that,” McCarry said.

Candidate Nathan Perea tapped into a broad group of donors because he “reached out to so many families and close friends,” he said. He had raised $8,273 by the end of last month.

Perea squared off against another newcomer, Tola Marts, for the Position 7 council seat. Marts said he employed a similar strategy to rake in $5,461 by the end of October, according to campaign filings.

“I have a really strong set of supporters,” Marts said.

Dash for cash

City candidates also worked to secure more donations to reach big numbers, due to a new campaign finance rule — the first limit to campaign contributions in Issaquah history.

With the start of campaign season two weeks away, the City Council voted in mid-May to limit Issaquah campaign contributions. The cap limits donations to $500 from a single party and includes both cash and in-kind donations in the total. Enforcement fell to city Code Compliance Officer Michele Forkner.

She said no complaints have been filed under the new ordinance. But several donors skirted the cap by giving to candidates already in the race before June 1, when the limit went into effect.

Mayor Ava Frisinger, who will be re-elected unopposed, netted $7,795 in cash and in-kind donations. Most of the contributions to the Frisinger campaign poured in before the filing period closed in June without a candidate challenging the mayor.

Unopposed City Council candidates, incumbent Eileen Barber and newcomer Mark Mullet, also pulled in donations. Barber pulled in $1,998 before the candidate-filing period ended. Mullet has raised $5,445, according to campaign filings.

Probala, who entered the race in late February, pulled in $1,000 from the Seattle King County Association of Realtors before the contribution limit went into effect.

Probala, a real estate agent, also received contributions from a political action committee, the Realtors Quality of Life PAC, a real estate organization based in Olympia. Her campaign drew $5,936 worth of independent support last month from organizations. The contributions were used for campaign mailers and newspaper ads, according to campaign filings.

Outside spending from the Affordable Housing Council was used to support Perea and Probala. The organization — the political arm of the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties — spent $1,600 each on the Perea and Probala campaigns to call voters.

City candidates each hosted a few receptions to raise money, and made pitches for campaign dollars through the Web. Candidates shelled out for big-ticket items, such as hundreds of yard signs, Web site design services and campaign mailers.

Probala, who raised more than any other city candidate, also spent the most: $14,191. Her campaign spent $1,731.23 for mailers, $1,138.20 for yard signs and $954 for newspaper advertising.

McCarry directed $7,241 to her re-election bid. She spent $2,727 for newspaper ads, $4,621.15 for campaign mailers and $1,215 for her campaign Web site.

Perea dropped $7,654 in the Position 7 contest. He outspent opponent Marts, who funneled $3,684 to his campaign.

Perea splurged on $1,095 for campaign signs, $1,000 for campaign consulting and Web site design, and $877.10 to print campaign materials.

Marts spent a total of $1,078.61 for campaign mailers and another $683.28 for yard signs. The largest single expense for the Marts campaign was $715 for a newspaper ad.

Mini-campaigns, big bills

Marnie Maraldo and Wright Noel, vying for the school board Director District No. 2 seat, opted for a different tactic: the so-called mini-campaign, a pact to limit fundraising and spending to $5,000.

The total includes loans from a candidate to his or her campaign. Contributions from a single donor cannot exceed $500. If a candidate breaks the mini-campaign rules, he or she must file a weekly disclosure report with the PDC. Maraldo and Noel did not break the $5,000 limit.

The schools candidates said the format allowed them more time to focus on issues.

“I’ve spent most of my time talking about the issues, rather than going out and trying to get money from people,” Noel said. “So, it has been nice, in that sense, since I haven’t had to be concerned about raising a lot of money.”

Maraldo said she and her husband, Tony, loaned the campaign about $2,500 at the beginning. Since she started fundraising during the summer, about $2,200 has flowed to the campaign, she said.

Maraldo estimated half of the donations were made through her campaign Web site. The other half, she said, was made through mailed contributions.

Major donors to the Maraldo campaign included local unions, education advocate Leigh Stokes and state Rep. Marcie Maxwell, a Renton Democrat who represents Newcastle, where Maraldo lives. The largest donations were about $200 each, Maraldo said.

Maraldo said most of money, $1,773.90, went toward campaign signs. Maraldo also had a campaign manager for a short stint, a $750 expense.

The campaign had about $1,500 less than two weeks before Election Day, and Maraldo said she would likely be able to reimburse about $1,000 of her loan to her campaign.

Noel said he has raised $1,455 in outside contributions for his campaign, using the same formula as Maraldo. He loaned the campaign about $1,000 to launch the effort. About half of the donations he collected were funneled through his Web site, and the other half was sent via mail.

“Even $10 is a huge statement of their support,” Noel said. “Does it make a difference? Yes. I wouldn’t have been able to get the signs out.”

Noel had spent $1,274 with less than two weeks until the election, with campaign signs as the largest expense. The campaign also paid for materials to make stress balls — flour and balloons with Noel’s name on them — and campaign buttons, and ingredients to bake homemade cookies.

After Noel reimburses the original loan, the campaign account will have a balance of about $200, Noel said.

Noel said the largest contribution to his campaign was about $200. Most of the donations, however, were between $10 and $50, he said.

“There has been a lot of little donations, which has been hugely appreciated,” he said.

Despite a tough economy and a new $500 cap in city races, City Council candidates raised impressive amounts in the sprint toward Election Day. Here are some of the top donors in Issaquah races:

City Council, Position 5

Maureen McCarry

Connie Marsh: $500

Chris Hysom: $500

Washington Conservation Voters: $450

Joan Probala

Seattle King County Association of Realtors: $1,000

Bill Conley: $501

Eastside Business Alliance: $500

Donations above the $500 limit were made before the cap went into effect June 1.

City Council, Position 7

Nathan Perea

Eastside Business Alliance: $500

Rowley Properties: $500

Washington Association of Realtors: $500

Tola Marts

Councilman John Rittenhouse: $350

Council President Maureen McCarry: $250

41st District Democrats: $250

School Board, Director District No. 2

Marnie Maraldo and Wright Noel opted to use so-called mini-campaigns, which limit the total raised and spent on a campaign to $5,000. Candidates who chose mini-campaigns do not have to file a weekly report with the Public Disclosure Commission.

Source: Public Disclosure Commission

By Warren Kagarise and Chantelle Lusebrink

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