Watson grabbed 70 percent of mayoral donations

HomeCity of AustinCity CouncilWatson grabbed 70 percent of mayoral donations

Updated 9:58am November 7, 2022, to correct a misstatement about District 5 candidate Aaron Webman’s total contributions. That error did not affect the accuracy of the spreadsheet.

Watson also pulled in 40 percent of all campaign donations to all candidates since the 2022 campaigns started

Click this graphic image to download the complete Campaign Finance Analysis current through October 31, 2022

Former state senator and current mayoral candidate Kirk Watson managed to spend more than $830,000 in the just three weeks. He’s trying to win back the office he abandoned in 2001, midway through a second term. And yet he still had $113,000 in cash on hand.

Watson, who’s been a high-profile political player since first elected mayor in 1997, and a veteran of the Texas Senate as well, demonstrated fundraising prowess that put him in a class by himself. He raised nearly $1.4 million through October 31st.

The biggest single recipient of his recent spending was Berlin Rosen Ltd. of New York City for producing and placing television and digital advertising. Payments to that firm totaled nearly $743,000.

If that wasn’t enough to bury the competition, Watson also reported support from six political action committees: Austinites for Equity, Capital Area Progressive Democrats, TREPAC, Charter Schools Now, Stand Together Austin, and Austin Board of Realtors. Spending by supporting PACs must be noted in a candidate’s campaign finance reports but is made without a candidate’s knowledge or consent.

Celia Israel

The other major Democrat running for mayor, Celia Israel, raised more than $400,000 but even that hefty sum pales in comparison to Watson’s take.

Israel spent a bit more than $89,000 in the last reporting period. Watson outspent her by more than 10 to 1.

She had $38,000 cash left.

Israel got no help from friends in terms of supporting political action committees.

Jennifer Virden

Jennifer Virden, the GOP candidate in the mayor’s race, has raised a grand total of $183,000 in contributions for her campaign, which she launched a year before election day.

She spent a bit more than $78,000 in the latest reporting period.

Despite having loaned her campaign $300,000 when she kicked off her campaign in 2021, she was still sitting on more than $252,000 in the latest report. In reading the financial tea leaves, it seems that she has figured out she’s not going to win this thing and may be saving it to repay herself for most of that loan. Either that or she’s holding onto it in case she gets into a runoff.

Virden has not reported any support from political action committees.

All together these three mayoral candidates have raised more than $1.9 million and spent $1.8 million and change.

The other three people on the mayoral ballot—Anthony Bradshaw, Phil Compero Brual, and Gary S. Spellman—have yet again ignored the requirement to file campaign finance reports. They each paid a $500 filing fee and have gotten attention but competitive candidates they are not.

District 9 second most expensive race

Ben Leffler

Seven of the eight candidates running to succeed Kathie Tovo as the District 9 council member raised nearly $539,000 and spent nearly $448,000. Ben Leffler raised nearly $126,000 but Greg Smith isn’t far behind at almost $102,000. Zohaib “Zo” Qadri is nipping Smith’s heels with $98,000 and Joah Spearman is close behind at $92,000.

Linda Guerrero has pulled in nearly $72,000 and she is getting outside help from a number of PACs, including Central Austin Democrats, Austin Environmental Democrats, and Washington, DC-based IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers). No other District 9 candidate reported PAC supporters.

Second-tier fundraisers are Tom Wald at $39,000. Far behind him Kym Olson raised $9,800 and Zena Mitchell raised zilch, zip, nada.

Leffler also leads in total spending at more than $100,000, but Greg Smith has laid out $93,000 and Spearman nearly $91,000. Qadri trails them at $76,000 spent and Guerrero at $55,000. Wald has spent nearly $27,000.

It’s interesting to note that Olson, who drew some negative press coverage for taking a $50,000 loan from her sister, hasn’t spent any of it.

District  5 third in fundraising totals

Aaron Velazquez Webman

The District 5 candidates have collectively raised almost $390,000 and spent $345,000.

Aaron Velazquez Webman stayed at the head of pack in funds raised at $136,000—mostly because he donated—not loaned—his campaign $50,000 early on. His total contributions from donors, slightly more than $86,000, is about $6,000 more than his nearest rival’s total. He’s spent more than $88,000 but he’s still sitting on more than $47,000 in cash. (Because he did not loan that $50K to his campaign, he can’t use it to repay himself.)

Ryan Joseph Alter (no relation to District 10 Council Member Alison Alter) has raised more than $80,000 but logged expenses of more than $112,000 because he reported an unpaid obligation of more than $27,000 to his political consultant, Y-Strategy. Alter is also getting support from the Real Estate Council of Austin Inc. Advancing Democracy PAC.

Ken Craig, who’s vying to succeed his former boss Ann Kitchen as the District 5 representative, gathered nearly $74,000 in donations and spent more than $63,000. He’s also getting PAC support from Austinites for Equity.

Stephanie Bazan netted nearly $68,000 but spent less than $44,000, and was sitting on more than $26,000 in cash.

Far behind the pack in fundraising Bill Welch netted more than $26,000 but has spent nearly $35,000, courtesy of the $10,000-plus he loaned to his campaign.

Brian Anderson was dead last in District 5 fundraising with $4,400.

Velasquez way out front in District 3

Jose Velasquez

Jose Velasquez is the only candidate to top $100,000 in this race, with more than $104,000. No other candidate came close. He spent more than $80,000. As if that wasn’t enough, his campaign is also supported by the Austinites for Equity PAC.

Daniela Silva is a distant second with $30,000 in contributions and $15,000 in spending.

The other four candidates running for the District 3 seat have each raised less than $10,000: José Noé Elias had $8,900, Gavino Fernandez $5,300, Yvonne Weldon $1,200, and Esala Wueschner $1,000.

Incumbents are killing it

Natasha Harper-Madison
Paige Ellis

Natasha Harper-Madison in District 1 and Paige Ellis in District 8 are the only incumbents seeking reelection this year.

Harper-Madison has raised a total of $157,000 and is still sitting on more than $52,000 in cash after spending $104,000 in round figures.

The three candidates running against Harper-Madison raised a combined total of barely $21,000 and have spent $28,000.

Misael Ramos raised just shy of $13,000 and spent more than $17,000. Clinton Rarey raised less than $7,600 and spent nearly $7,800. Melonie House-Dixon raised $925 and spent more than $2,600.

Ellis has raised a total of more than $129,000 and spent less than $74,000. Of the three opposing candidates only Richard Smith has pulled anything at all. He gathered contributions of more than $55,000 and spent more than $69,000, made possible because he loaned his campaign $16,000.

Kimberly P. Hawkins and Antonio D. Ross are on the ballot in District 8, but have filed no campaign finance reports. They, too, paid $500 filing fees but are making no effort to win the office.

Photo of Ken MartinTrust indicators: Ken Martin started tracking and reporting on campaign finance reports for Austin’s mayoral and city council candidates in July 1995, when he launched the In Fact newsletter covering city hall and local politics. The Austin Chronicle bestowed a “Best of Austin” award on the newsletter back then, saying that he sliced and diced campaign finance reports like a ginsu master.

Related documents: The campaign finance reports upon which this report is based may be accessed on the Austin City Clerk’s website.

Related Bulldog coverage:

Watson circumvented law to fund new medical school, November 1, 2022

What kind of legislator was Celia Israel? October 28, 2022

What kind of mayor was Watson? October 24, 2022

Candidates offer competing visions on homelessness, October 18, 2022

2022 candidates have raised $3 million-plus, October 14, 2022

The man who would be mayor…again, October 10, 2022

Want to get elected but not be accountable? September 28, 2022

Mayor and council candidates rake up $2.3 million, September 7, 2022

Urbanists vie to replace council member Kathie Tovo, August 30, 2022

Let the mayor and council campaigns begin, August 22, 2022

Congratulations. It looks like you’re the type of person who reads to the end of articles. Now that you’re informed on this topic we want your feedback.

Related Content

Democrats sweep TCAD board election

There is no such thing as a nonpartisan election in Travis County, TexasSure, sure, I know. Elections in Travis County for city councils, school...

Profile: Doug Greco for mayor

Douglas Jeffrey Greco, 53, is one of four candidates (so far) who’s campaigning to be Austin’s mayor in 2025.Greco trying to unseat incumbent Mayor...

Court halts $354 million development subsidy

A Travis County court issued a ruling to halt the use of future property taxes to subsidize luxury development of 118 acres of land...



What's really going on in government?

Keep up with the best investigative reporting in Austin.

Donate to the Bulldog

Our critical accountability journalism wouldn't be possible without the generous donations of hundreds of Austinites. Join them and become a supporter today!