For candidates like Chapel Hill Mayor Kevin Foy, the 2007 elections were cakewalks. For others, such as Durham Mayor Bill Bell, they were catfights. The year-end campaign finance reports were due Jan. 25, and tracked contributions and expenditures for the last half of the year, including those crucial two weeks before Election Day. Totals for the election cycle are also tallied.
Durham mayoral challenger Thomas Stith spent more than $2,000 on robocalls, a keystone of his unsuccessful fall campaign, according to year-end campaign finance reports filed Jan. 25.
Targeted Creative Communications, a high-profile campaign consulting firm based in Alexandria, Va., crafted the automated messages, which attacked incumbent Bill Bell for his administration's alleged weak stance on crime and illegal immigration.
The strategy backfired and Bell won his fourth term by a 58 percent to 42 percent margin.
In the last two weeks of the election, Stith spent more than $13,000 on mailers, several of them directly attacking Bell; for the entire election, his expenditure for the materials was more than $91,000.
One of Stith's most generous contributors was wealthy conservative Art Pope, who gave Stith $4,000 on Oct. 29. The Pope Center helps fund the Civitas Institue, Stith's former employer.
Stith received support from Republican state and federal officials as well, including Reginald Holley, deputy state director for U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole ($250); state Sen. Fred Smith, who is running for governor this year ($1,000); and the Committee to Elect Paul Stam for House ($500).
Bell's largest contributor was developer Robert Teer Jr., who anted up $2,000. He also received $500 from Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beverly Perdue.
Bell's tab for his election-night party at the Durham Marriott at the Civic Center was $4,788; Stith's reception across the plaza at Blue Coffee Café was cheaper: $768.
He placed fourth in the race, but first in cash: Council challenger Matt Czajkowski spent at least $20,000 in the election cycle—more than fellow candidates Sally Greene, Cam Hill and Bill Strom combined. Ninety percent came from Czajkowski's own pocket, via $17,750 in self-loans.
Czajkowski came in fourth in the seven-person race for four seats, squeaking by incumbent Hill by 63 votes.
In total, Strom raised $9,380 and spent $6,497; Greene raised $7,881 and spent $5,669; and Hill raised $5,485 and spent $5,566 (he had cash on hand from his 2003 race). Top vote-getter and incumbent Jim Ward, who pledged not to spend more than $3,000, had not submitted a final report as of Jan. 29.
Most candidates reported spending at least some of their cash on parties. The incumbents' $1,500 election-night victory party at Crook's Corner—whose cost was split among the five council and mayoral incumbents—looked like a low-budget hootenanny compared to Czajkowski's $6,000 post-election bash and fundraiser at La Residence in early December.
Other notable expenditures include $180 for robocalls, paid for by Strom and Mayor Kevin Foy. Raleigh consultants Public Policy Polling placed the calls, in which Foy encouraged people to vote for the incumbents in a recorded message.
Challenger Will Raymond, who placed a distant seventh in his second unsuccessful bid for a council seat, spent $2,062, after raising $1,400 in contributions and loaning himself $1,882 in this election cycle. (Raymond also had cash on hand from his 2003 race.)
Newcomer Penny Rich raised $4,360 in contributions and spent $3,905.
In Chapel Hill's mayoral battle of the Kevins, challenger Kevin Wolff largely self-financed his unsuccessful second bid for the town's top spot. Wolff loaned himself $2,000 three weeks before the election, and a family member chipped in $200.
Meanwhile, Foy raised $1,140 for the reporting period, and $3,800 for the election cycle.
Raising campaign funds from the wrong sources can sometimes cost a candidate votes. In Cary, where voters expressed outrage over the fast pace of new development—and developers' close ties to town officials—incumbent Ernie McAlister lost the mayor's race despite raising nearly five times as much money as challenger Harold Weinbrecht.
According to end-of-year campaign finance reports, McAlister's campaign raised nearly $230,000—much of it in big checks from development and real estate interests.
Gregory Sanchez, president of the TriProperties development firm, gave $4,000, as did Greg Sandreuter, president of Hamilton Merritt. The N.C. Home Builders Association political action committee gave $4,000, and the N.C. Realtors PAC gave $3,000. Lawyer-politico Brent Barringer gave $2,000, as did Robert Teer Jr. of Teer Associates, and Tim Smith, co-founder of Preston Development.
Also on McAlister's list were three associates of the Crosland Group, giving a combined $1,700. Crosland is the developer behind the controversial plan at the intersection of Davis Drive and High House Road, which sparked protest from nearby residents. A handful of those residents filed suit against the town seeking to have the zoning decision overturned.
Weinbrecht supporters used the Internet to publicize details from McAlister's early campaign finance reports, emphasizing the large sums the candidate accepted from development interests, many based outside of Cary. Videos on YouTube mocking the mayor's ties to developers featured satirical songs set to the tune of Joni Mitchell's "Big Yellow Taxi" and Dire Straits' "Money for Nothing."
Weinbrecht, meanwhile, raised approximately $50,600, mostly in small sums of $50 and $25 checks. His largest contributions came from his own pocket and in the form of in-kind donations. His wife, Belinda, spent $4,000 on a victory party. Software engineer Brent Miller spent $2,200 on campaign materials. Other contributions included $1,000 from the committee to re-elect council member Nels Roseland (which failed in its mission), $650 from retiree Emory Stearns, $500 from Barbara Lang, wife of former mayor Glen Lang, and $500 from DavisandHighHouse.org, a Cary political group that formed to oppose the Crosland development.
The challenger paid political consultant Perry Woods $25,000 to run his campaign and paid Public Policy Polling, run by Dean Debnam, $950. Weinbrecht's campaign spent $50,223 total.
McAlister paid J.N. Dollar & Associates—the political consulting firm of N.C. Rep. Nelson Dollar—$136,182 for campaign help and "advice," according to the report. McAlister spent $217,762 total.
Will there be a rematch two years from now in Raleigh's District B? Former City Councilor Jessie Taliaferro declined to call for a runoff after she finished a distant second to front-runner Rodger Koopman on Oct. 9. Thus, Koopman took her seat, but Taliaferro held onto $26,877 in her campaign account, according to her end-of-year financial report. Meanwhile, Koopman retains the $19,547 he'd salted away for a potential runoff.
The two "B" candidates raised similar amounts in '07: $56,341 for Koopman to Taliaferro's $56,133. She spent $42,911 (including some leftover '05 money) to his $36,793.
Taliaferro said she planned to take a break from politics for a while, then consider her options.
In the marquee election for two at-large council seats, meanwhile, the end-of-year reports show Councilor Mary Ann Baldwin, elected as the result of her second-place finish, was the top fundraiser at $103,873. She spent $101,497.
Incumbent and top vote-getter Councilor Russ Stephenson raised $64,165 and spent $64,068.
The Rev. Paul Anderson, whose third-place finish wasn't quite good enough, raised most of his money toward the end of the campaign. He spent $56,522, including some money left over from a losing '05 effort in a District A race; he raised $50,104 in 2007.
The best showing, in terms of dollars for votes: Helen Tart, who ran fourth, spent just $1,426, which leaves her account relatively flush at $1,137 going into '08.
Corrections (Feb. 5, 2008): As noted in the reader comments below, this article misstated the funding source for Durham mayoral challenger Thomas Stith's former employer, the Civitas Institute; it is the Pope Foundation, not the Pope Center for Higher Education. It also misstated the year of Chapel Hill Town Council candidate Will Raymond's previous campaign; it was 2005.