How much does money matter in a Louisville Metro Council race?
In the crowded Democratic primary for the District 9 seat, three candidates have a huge fundraising edge in the 13-person primary election over their opponents.
University of Louisville fundraiser J.P. Davis and attorney Bill Hollander, who are vying for the seat, have reportedly raised approximately $50,000 each, according to the campaign finance reports filed 32 days ahead of Election Day.
Former assistant county attorney Chris Hartley has raised just over $37,000 in this contest.
That’s vastly more than most of the other contenders who have raised less than $6,000.
Those contenders with less campaign cash are arguing the huge gulf represents wealthier donors who are trying to buy the seat.
“I wouldn’t level any accusations,” says Democrat Mike Brooks, a District 9 candidate who received the Courier-Journal’s endorsement recently. “I will say that if we’re going to sell our seat in Metro Council to wealthy donors from outside the district we should probably get a lot more for it than a few billboards and some mailers.”
Brooks says dollars don’t yet equal votes and that door knocking and walking the district is still the most viable asset in District 9 when compared to billboards and glossy mail pieces.
(The chart does not include two candidates—Jason Clark and Geoffrey Morris—who have not reported raising any funds according to state records)
In a race with over a dozen contenders, however, money helps with name id and reaching voters without the competitive noise.
Hollander tells WFPL that fundraising has always been an important part of a candidate’s ability to get their message out. He also points out that Democratic incumbent Tina Ward-Pugh, who is retiring, raised above $40,000 for her primary battle 12 years ago and that every dollar is need to retain the seat.
“Fundraising will also be important in retaining the seat for Democrats in November against Laura Rice,” says Hollander, who received a nod from Mayor Greg Fischer earlier this year. “A Republican opponent who has loaned her campaign $50,000 has already spent over $11,000, despite having no primary opponent.“
But other Democrat don’t see it that way, and much like the national campaign finance debate on the left they argue that Hollander and Davis’ campaign is nothing more than Louisville’s elite from outside the district trying to buy the race.
“When a strategist told me that I was going to need $60,000, I laughed and said no way that’s an exorbitant amount,” says Noe, a small business owner in the district. “I would want to put that type of money back in the district. As a constituent I’m a little disappointed that there’s that kind of money being thrown at this race from outside the district.”
Noe has raised just over $4,500 and says most voters call her with questions or concerns about city services over who has been endorsed by what official or labor group.
“I think when you’re connected and you know wealthy people in Louisville and they can write thousand dollar checks and they have 10 or 20 friends who can write thousand dollar checks it’s real easy to buy a race.”
“That’s a cheap shot,” says Davis. “Its unfortunate opponents would take that stab because it’s not true and really inappropriate.”
Davis credits his fundraising to a personal and professional network since he moved to Louisville from Eastern Kentucky 15 years ago. As the former personal assistant to the late Louisville philanthropist Owsley Brown Frazier, Davis’ fundraising prowess was expected by many of his opponents.
“We hear all of this debate about campaign finance, but I’m very proud of my fundraising because we have such a diverse pool of people giving me money. I consider it a compliment to say I can draw from all demographics of people,” he says.
A review of Davis’ contributors is a reflection of that network, showing hefty donations from California lobbyists, the chief financial officer of Brown-Forman, the director of Humana, and developers with 21C Museum Hotel.
He also has donations under $500 from many local business owners, but very rarely below that watermark.
An analysis of Davis’ fundraising shows just 31 percent of his donors list their addresses as coming from the three zip codes in the district.
The Democratic primary is May 20.