Traverse City Record-Eagle

October 31, 2010

Raising campaign funds a tough job


TRAVERSE CITY — Two Grand Traverse County board candidates, opponents for the same seat in Tuesday's election, raised more money for their campaigns than all other commission hopefuls combined.

Two candidates for Traverse City's school board each raised and spent more than $1,000 in the six-way race for two spots.

And incumbent state Rep. Dan Scripps, D-Leland, collected hundreds of thousands of dollars in an effort to retain his seat in the 101st state House district.

Pre-general election campaign finance statements show candidates in a smattering of local and state races are running campaigns ranging from the well-funded, with money kicked in from large unions and political players, to the self-funded, with small contributions from family members and friends.

Erik Falconer raised the most of any Traverse City school board candidates, at $3,046.30. Most of the money is Falconer's — he gave his campaign nearly $3,000.

The only outside contributions as of Oct. 25, when he signed his statement, were PayPal transfers worth 14 cents and a $50 contribution from local developer Jerry Snowden.

Falconer spent nearly all of it — almost $2,938 — on mailings, yard signs and car magnets. Much of his emphasis was toward absentee voters.

"It's not the easiest part of the campaign," Falconer said of raising money. "If you can make your name recognizable in some way or another, that's certainly the strategy that we were trying to pursue."

School board candidate Jennifer Schell Bonifacio raised and spent $1,100 from Aug. 10 to Oct. 17, her statement shows. She received $1,000 from family members and $100 from sitting school board member Kelly Hall.

She spent nearly $1,892 of her money on yard signs and mailings to absentee voters, which she classified as a loan under in-kind contributions.

"I really had a hard time asking other people for money, so I really didn't do a lot of fundraising," Bonifacio said.

Candidates Cynthia Glines, Scott Hardy, Mary Marois and Mary Jo McKay all filed reporting waivers, meaning they did not expect to raise or spend more than $1,000.

Some candidates are heavily invested in their races. Mike Stepka, who faces Kevin Elsenheimer in the race for 86th District Court judge, pumped about $70,000 of his own money into his campaign. He took out loans to cover some of it.

"I've known for years how much a district court campaign costs," he said. "I knew full well going into it that it would cost an awful lot of money."

But Stepka doesn't have regrets.

"It's indicative, for me at least, that I'm very serious about wanting to serve as district court judge, and because of that I'm willing to make the investment."

Democrat Ross Richardson, incumbent Grand Traverse County commissioner in District 5, raised $6,685 this election cycle, the most of all candidates seeking a spot on the board. He took in $3,010 from Aug. 24 to Oct. 17.

His challenger, Republican Traverse City Commissioner Ralph Soffredine, has the second-largest campaign fund, at nearly $5,800.

Richardson contributed $2,500 of his own money to the campaign. The United Auto Workers Region 1D, based in Grand Rapids, contributed $750.

He built his campaign on direct solicitations from supporters, and spent $5,321 on yard signs and mailings.

"Both Ralph and I are running hard," Richardson said. "If you want to win a political race, you have to communicate with the voters, and that's what costs money."

Democrat Bernie Soutar, running against Republican challenger Jason Gillman in District 1, raised $1,650 from May 11 to Oct. 15.

His statement understates his income by $6.69, which he attributed to a math error and said he would correct with the county clerk's office.

He spent close to $1,564 on mailings, walking shoes and reimbursements to campaign workers.

Soutar contributed $550 himself, and accepted $500 donations from both the UAW and the Grand Traverse County Democratic Party.

"It's been a tough year to get money," he said. "I did what the money allowed me to do."

District 7 candidates Tom Mair and Christine Maxbauer filed reporting waivers.

"In local elections, it's extremely important to not be influenced by donors or to even have the perception of being influenced by donors," said Maxbauer, a Republican. "The only people that I answer to are the voters."

Candidates aren't the only ones spending money to get their messages to voters.

The Grand Traverse Countywide Senior Center Network, a committee supporting a millage proposal to merge the Traverse City Senior Center with the county's Commission on Aging, raised nearly $2,799 from Aug. 30 to Oct. 22.

Treasurer Mary Andrews said Friends of the Grand Traverse County Commission on Aging, a group that organized to support the commission's August millage request, contributed its $753.75 balance.

Several contributions of $100 came from senior center members or their families, said Andrews, also chairwoman of the Commission on Aging board.

Much of the $2,354 spent went toward mailings to absentee voters, Andrews said.

"The majority of them are older and can't get out to vote," she said. "That tends to be the best bang for our buck."