Politics Blog

Whatcom Council fundraising appears ahead of 2009 pace; still no big money

Here is a rundown of the money raised by the 2013 Whatcom County Council candidates, from most to least well funded:

1) Rud Browne -- $71,252.56

2) Carl Weimer -- $50,356.10

3) Ken Mann -- $38,151.24

4) Barry Buchanan -- $33,919.49

5) Bill Knutzen -- $25,554.47

6) Michelle Luke -- $23,985.13

7) Kathy Kershner -- $18,965.75

8) Ben Elenbaas -- $15,183.84

Riley Sweeney took a look at the county council contribution numbers at the beginning of this month and already noted that the four progressive candidates top the list, and the four conservatives are at the bottom. Twenty-four days later and 39 days before Election Day, that hasn't changed.

This is the case even though the county and state Republican Party organizations donated $2,300 to each of the four conservatives, while the four progressives have not received a donation from the state or county Dems.

This is not to say the Democratic Party isn't helping Mann, Weimer, Browne and Buchanan. The party opened the "Whatcom Wins!" office on the first floor of the Herald Building for the purpose of getting these four elected. (Incidentally, the county Democrats were donated the office space by Bob Hall/Herald Building, Inc., at a cash value of $25,820 -- by far the largest donation so far this year to the county Dems.

Other broad-brush items to note about county council fundraising: Still no independent expenditures, the money that does not go to a candidate but rather to a radio or TV station, or newspaper advertising department, for ads either for or against a candidate or candidates. Recall that on May 31 MSNBC's Luke Russert interviewed Coral Davenport, a reporter with the National Journal who wrote about "the obscure county election that could change the planet."

She wrote about the "outsized" role the little Whatcom County Council will have in deciding the fate of a coal terminal that could ship 48 million tons of the black rock to Asia for power generation there.

Russert in his segment created the expectation that interest groups or super PACS would be throwing millions of dollars at these races -- money that would have to come in the form of independent expenditures, which have no dollar limit. Direct donations to county council candidates in Washington max out at $900.

No sign of the big money yet, but it's still early. If it's coming, it's likely to happen near the day ballots are mailed out, around Friday, Oct. 18.

Browne, the overall fundraising leader, said he thinks that money is coming. But the purpose of the money wouldn't be to get the right council members into office to make the final decision on the Gateway Pacific Terminal, he said. Quite to the contrary. The money, Browne said, would go toward casting doubt on the impartiality and hence the legality of the council's decision on two permits for the terminal.

"There are elements on both sides of the debate whose objective is to make sure this decision is handled in a courtroom, not in Whatcom County," Browne said in an interview on Thursday, Sept. 26. "Then they get a say. They get to be the ones who decide."

So far, fundraising totals in the Whatcom County Council races don't look too different than those in 2009. It's a good year to compare to 2013, because both years have eight candidates, and five of the eight are the same: Mann, Luke, Weimer, Kershner and Knutzen.

The eight candidates combined raised $318,768.48 in 2009 through the end of that year. The eight candidates this year have raised $277,368.58 so far, or 87 percent of the 2009 total.

How much money might be raised for the duration of 2013? I went back to 2009 to look at all the donations to the Mann campaign after September. Mann was the leading fundraiser among the eight council candidates that year. Of the $51,936.41 he raised, he reported $11,819 in October through January. In other words, he had raised 77.2 percent of his total through this time in 2009.

At that same pace, the eight candidates this year will raise $359,084. This is only donations directly to candidates, not independent expenditures.

Independent expenditures, as I said earlier, equal zero so far this year. They totaled $6,722.66 for all four races in 2009.