By J. Whyatt Mondesire
The first numbers are in for the upcoming municipal elections and already things are looking poorly. No…I’m not talking about voter turnout rates or name recognition percentages from assorted focus groups. After all, the first nominating petitions can’t go out for just under two weeks yet. This time, I’m focused on the campaign war chests that have been reported by the six declared and undeclared tickets for mayor in the May 19th Primary Election.
The first and only campaign finance reporting deadline before the election was last Jan. 31 and so far, none of the wannabe mayors is even half-way toward a million dollars. With only about 90 days left in the campaign season, this means that barring some ferocious 11th hour trolling, none of the current candidates will have enough of a war chest to make much fuss on broadcast television. It also means that there probably won’t be a lot of extraneous cash around for that hallowed Philadelphia Election Day tradition known affectionately as “street money.”
The severe limits put in place curtailing individual and Political Action Committee contributions to individual candidates is largely responsible for the current state of affairs. But while some may see such limits as “reform” because it slashes the influence of major contributors and so-called “bundlers,” the city’s campaign finance laws say nothing about how much a rich candidate can spend nor do they provide for any form of public financing.
However, don’t be surprised if you see non-candidate PACs, especially unions, enter the spending contest with gusto since our current laws also leave such entities totally unregulated. Such a development has to be weighing heavily on the campaign of State Senator Anthony Williams, an avowed charter school advocate who has all but declared war on the teachers’ union. Williams was heavily financed by two big money hedge fund owners who backed increased school privatization when he recently ran for governor, a fact which is likely to draw union affiliated PACs into the mayoral contest this time looking for payback.
So, while Williams may by leading in the fundraising department in the moment with $425,800 reported as of Jan. 31, 2015, one or two the city’s dozen or so major unions is quite capable of eclipsing that figure with only a minimal effort.
The candidate with the next largest treasury at $424,600 was former District Attorney Lynne M. Abraham. However, about a third of her total came from personal loans.
Former City Councilman James Kenney who just announced he was running reported $76,500; with retired Common Pleas Court Judge Nelson Diaz holding $79,400 and soon-to-announce political neophyte at $1,470.
Judging by these figures at three months out, none of these candidates seems poised to raise the kind of money needed to saturate the local television airwaves. Don’t celebrate yet, but this may mean we’ll be spared the ubiquitous onslaught of commercials most of us love to complain about.
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