All results tallied through final pre-election campaign finance reports
In round figures the 18 active candidates running for the five seats on the Austin City Council raised a quarter-million dollars just in the last few weeks alone and they spent more than a half-million dollars during the same period. Total fundraising to date is nearly $1.2 million.
Yet with eight days left before the election they still had almost another half-million dollars in cash on hand to dump into last-minute efforts to win votes.
Statewide, 7.8 million people—46 percent of all registered Texas voters—had cast their ballots through Monday, October 26, the Texas Tribune reported. The percentage of registered Austin voters who have already voted may be even higher.
The higher early voting turnout means city council candidates who planned to dump all that cash into last minute radio, TV, direct mail or robocalls have a rapidly diminishing audience. About half the registered voters have already trudged to the polls or dropped off or mailed in their ballots. Voter turnout will have to be extraordinarily high for these expensive last-minute appeals to pay off.
Too much money too late?
In presidential elections, turnout hit its peak way back in 1876, when 81.2 percent of the voting age population cast ballots. That was when all white men over the age of 21 could vote. Black men didn’t get the right to vote until the Fifteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution passed in 1870. Women couldn’t vote until the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified in 1920.
In the last dozen presidential elections, going all the way back to 1972, the portion of the voting age population that actually voted has not risen above 55.7 percent. At the rate that early voters are turning this year out all over the United States, 2020 may be the year to rise above that threshold.
Peck Young has been a political consultant for a half century and currently is working with the Voices of Austin nonprofit to defeat Proposition A (Project Connect) on the November 3 ballot.
Young told the Bulldog that traditionally, candidates have hung onto their cash to unleash a blitz of advertising right after the final pre-election campaign finance reports are filed. This tactic is designed to keep their opponents in the dark about how they’re spending, thereby limiting their opponents ability to respond to surprise attacks.
“You give the guy handling your direct mail a check at midnight plus one on seventh day, and buy the last six days of the election,” Young said. But this year is different. “I think they’re being silly.”
Young said, “You’re not going to get that much bang for your buck because so many people have already voted.”
District 10 candidates flush with cash
District 10 incumbent Alison Alter has raised more than $194,000 in her bid to win a second term. That amounts to 39 percent of all contributions received by D10 candidates. She’s already spent $130,000 of it but has more than $63,000 left to further tout her accomplishments (or taunt her opponents, should she decide to do so).
While Alter’s haul was far greater than any of her five challengers, three of them also drummed up enough money to wage strong campaigns and have a chance to be in a runoff. Although it is possible for Alter to win outright, a runoff is almost assured when an incumbent has so many well-funded opponents.
Closest on Alter’s heels in the money race is Robert Thomas, who raised almost $119,000—despite not getting into the D10 contest until August 14, 2020. In 2014 Thomas loaned his D10 council campaign $100,000. So far in 2020, however, he has not put a dime of his own money into this comeback effort. Thomas had more than $32,000 in cash on hand to spend leading into the November 3 general election.
D10 candidate Pooja Sethi has raised nearly $92,000 and loaned her campaign $15,000. She is Alter’s only opponent to have jumped in early and start raising money in 2019. She still had a thumping $68,000 in cash on hand to deploy in the waning days before the election.
D10 candidate Jennifer Virden, also a late entrant on August 17, has raised more than $90,000 and loaned her campaign another $50,000. She still had nearly $65,000 in cash on hand to boost herself or attack her opponents.
D10 candidate Belinda Greene had not filed the campaign finance report due Monday as of 11:10am this morning, according to the City Clerk’s office. In addition, she did not respond to multiple phone messages from the Bulldog today.
Bennett Easton is also running in D10 but vowed not to accept donations.
Noel Tristan filed for a place on the District 10 ballot but then withdrew. However it was too late to get his name off the ballot.
In total the District 10 field of candidates raised almost $498,000. That far exceeds fundraising totals for any other district race on the ballot. In fact it’s 43 percent of all funds raised so far in this election cycle for all five council districts.
Open District 2 seat a closer money contest
While David Chincanchan is well ahead in raising money with $97,000, his advantage is not as intimidating as district races where incumbents are sucking up the lion’s share of free-flowing campaign cash.
However, Chincanchan and several other candidates are benefitting from spending by political action committees that will be quantified in a separate Bulldog report.
In the money raising derby Chincanchan is well ahead but Vanessa Fuentes has drawn $57,000 in support. That’s just 58 percent of Chincanchan’s total, about the same as where she stood vis-a-vis Chincanchan through the October 5 campaign finance reports.
D2 candidate Casey Ramos, who didn’t file to run until Austin 17, tallied just $6,000 and is banking on his far deeper roots in the district to carry him into a runoff. (The Bulldog previously reported that Ramos had not filed either a Personal Financial Statement or a Statement of Financial Information. He has since done so.)
Alex Strenger dropped out too late to have his name removed from the ballot. He endorsed Ramos.
District 6 incumbent’s massive advantage
Jimmy Flannigan’s campaign coffers are heavy indeed, more than $167,000. He has raised $102,000 more than his nearest challenger, Mackenzie Kelly, who tallied more than $64 000.
Flannigan has spent $116,000 already but still has $58,000 to kick him over the finish line ahead of his challengers.
Kelly, in turn, has raised $64,000, giving her a significant advantage over third-place fundraiser Jennifer Mushtaler at $40,000. Neither of them has much money left to fuel a final sprint to the finish line.
But Mushtaler is getting a huge boost from a newly formed political action committee, Had Enough Austin? In its most recent filing the PAC reported $130,000 in expenditures to support Mushtaler and oppose Alter. And the PAC still had more than $208,000 in cash on hand.
Dee Harrison is on the ballot in District 6, too, but totally out of the running moneywise with less than $2,500.
District 7 is the low-budget race
Leslie Pool has netted nearly $63,000 in contributions and had almost $17,000 left for a final push.
Morgan Witt’s tally came in just a little bit less than $18,000 and she had upwards of $13,000 to spend in the waning days of the campaign.
District 4 no contest on money
Incumbent D4 Council Member Greg Casar pulled in $116,000 compared with Louis C. Herrin’s $30,000. In other words, Herrin has raised barely a fourth of what Casar totaled.
This is Herrin’s third run for the D4 seat and each in previous attempt he placed him either last or next to last.
Ramesses II Setepenre is also on the ballot in the D4 election but has raised no money at all.
This story was updated at 2:03pm October 28, 2020, to replace the featured image with a more complete chart showing footnotes. The chart corrected an error in the entries for District 10 candidates Robert Thomas and Jennifer Virden: She signed the Fair Campaign Contract, he did not.
Trust indicators: Ken Martin has been covering local government, elections, and politics since 1981. See more about Ken on the About page.
Links to related documents: All campaign finance reports referenced in this story are available for download on the Austin City Clerk’s website.
Links to related Bulldog election coverage:
Land Battle: D7 candidates Pool vs Witt, October 22, 2020
Alter’s odds against winning, five to one, October 21, 2020
Three contenders vie for District 2 council seat, October 15, 2020
Council candidates so far raised $930,000, October 7, 2020
Transit tax draws attack from the left, October 2, 2020
Council Member Flannigan’s bad debts, September 24, 2020