Campaign finances on the local level

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Davin Eldridge – Staff Writer

Last week, Macon County News reported on the rise of third-parties finding their way onto North Carolina ballots, as well as an increase in unaffiliated voter registrations. The shifts in electoral trends are occurring locally and is reportedly correlated at the national level. Such developments indicate a level of dissatisfaction with the nation’s major parties—Republicans and Democrats—and reveal an election cycle that will be far different from others of recent memory.

With the latest campaign finance reports now in, it appears that while confidence in party politics is low in some respects, confidence in local politicians may be higher.

“Really, it all depends,” Board of Elections Deputy Director Gary Tallent said. “I think, it all depends on how highly contended the races are, or how much money is spent on a race.”

As is typical of most elections, Macon County’s incumbents all appear to be strong candidates for re-election.

“Of course you’ve got your [incumbents] who have a lot of support,” he said. “Tate raised a lot of money in the primary and now is running unopposed.”

There was a good deal of money held over from the primaries and previous elections for some candidates. Others, like Ron Haven and Gary Shields, have both applied as candidates “at the threshold” at the start of this year’s elections—meaning they technically aren’t required to report campaign finances as they don’t intend to do any more fundraising. 

“It is a well established fact that incumbents win re-election at high rates,” writes Jessica Trounstine, an assistant professor of politics and public affairs at Princeton University.”

“There are normally a few reasons why a candidate wouldn’t foresee the need to raise money for his or her    campaign,” said Western Carolina University’s Chris Cooper, who teaches political science. “They could have deep pockets already, or they might have money held over from previous elections. Often times it’s because they don’t have that great a fear of losing a bid for re-election.”

Between Macon County’s sheriff’s and commissioners’ races, there is far less money involved in either race this year as opposed to the 2014 races.

Altogether, just under $2,900 has been spent on this year’s commissioners’ race. By contrast, more than $28,100 has been raised by the candidates.

But the cost of running for sheriff appears to be a far more expensive endeavor than a commissioner’s race. Between Macon County Sheriff Robert Holland and candidates Eric Giles and Bryan Carpenter, $14,000 has been raised. In 2014, that figure was right at $12,500.

The latest campaign finance reports released by Macon County’s Board of Elections help reveal changing electoral dynamics at the local level.

As of July 12, the Citizens to Re-Elect Holland for Sheriff disclosed in its second report that the campaign began the quarter with a balance of $10,456.77 for the purpose of deposits, contributions and expenses.

Receipts disclosed by the Holland campaign reveal the current sheriff has plenty of “skin in the game.” No amount of contributions is ever too small when it comes to financing a bid for re-election.

Since May, the Holland camp took in contributions from at least 57 individuals—donations of $50 or less, totaling $2,858. Altogether, the sheriff has received $11,647.99 worth of “small” donations.

Yet, the bulk of the Holland’s campaign funding comes from the what was collected between New Year’s Day and June 30—$45,173.31—all from the contributions of 15 individuals that were more than $50. Most of the money was gifted by retirees with addresses from all over Florida and Western North Carolina, as well as four individuals with a background in criminal justice—including one deputy in his employ, and a county commissioner, who cut his second $357.99 check to the campaign in early June. The most sizable donation Holland disclosed was a $650 contribution made by a political committee.

In total, the Holland campaign has taken in a grand total of $57,471.30. Since May, it reported $1,712.66 in operating costs, out of $41,705.89 gross expenses claimed since the start of the election cycle. The campaign spent a total of $2,273.88 at Gooder Grafix for signs and banners, and nearly $56 in service fees at PNC Bank, where his campaign does its banking. It now has $11,602.10 on hand.

Like Sheriff Holland’s campaign finance report, the Committee To Elect Eric Giles has yet to hold a single fundraiser. 

According to the campaign’s latest finance report, the Giles camp had far less cash on hand at the start of the second quarter, a mere $566.18. As of last week, the campaign collected zero dollars in smaller contributions. Throughout the entire summer quarter, Giles amassed a total of $1,150 in donations of $50 or more and just under $5,240 throughout the entire election cycle. The campaign had not reported receiving any endowments from political committees.

The campaign claimed nearly $1,133 in operating expenditures for the entire second quarter, and about $4,080 for the entire cycle thus far. By the end of the quarter, it reportedly had $583.47 on hand. A total of five individuals have made contributions to the Giles campaign to date, including one retired police officer, and all of whom listed local addresses. On June 19, $40 was spent on fuel at Cowee Convenience for Giles to travel to a rally in Nantahala. Altogether, nearly $50 was spent on refreshments for two events. Around the same time, just over $130 was spent at Lowes on lumber, nails and other materials to create campaign signs. Giles also spent a little over $212 at Vistaprint on June 10 to print t-shirts. And $1,523 was spent at Yardsignwholesale.com to purchase large campaign signs.

As of press time, Carpenter’s figures were not yet finalized by the local elections board.

Committee To Re-Elect Ronnie Beale had a balance of just over $180 at the beginning of the summer quarter. A total of $400 was collected from one individual twice, who gave donations of a minimum $100 each time. The campaign is currently claiming $380 cash on hand at the close of the summer quarter, with just $19.90 in costs.

Commission candidate Betty Cloer Wallace is self financing her campaign. The Wallace committee had a balance of $647 at the beginning of the summer period. It has collected no contributions from any individual, and claimed $138.23 in expenditures. By quarter’s end, Wallace had $509.11 in cash on hand. She spent more than $117 at Boatwright Auction on a printer, and more than $20 at Ingles for fuel to travel to Nantahala.

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