City election costly affair

Mayor’s race tops $70,000

by Keith Laing, The Brunswick News

November 5, 2005

Two candidates who have been in the race for Brunswick mayor – including one no longer on the ballot – have spent more money each on their campaigns than the post pays in one year.

Campaign finance reports filed with the city clerk show that candidate Bryan Thompson and former hopeful Elaine Brown have each spent more than $30,000 on the election.

The mayor’s annual compensation for the part-time job is $13,500.

Thompson had raised more than $50,000 and spent a little more than $36,000 before the Oct. 25 reporting deadline and Brown raised more than $29,000 and spent more than $31,000 by a Sept. 30 report before she was removed from the ballot.

By contrast, candidates Otis Herrington and Betsy Bean, a write-in, had spent only a little more than $4,000, combined.

Combined, the four have spent more than $70,000 on advertising, signs and campaign events.

Thompson, who spent $36,194 through the close of the last filing period, said the cost of the campaign had initially caught him off guard.

“It’s costing more than I had anticipated before I started fund-raising and putting together a budget,” he said.

“I figured it would cost about $2,500, but then you start to think about the things you need to do in order to run an organized and effective campaign,” he said.

Brown said she is not surprised by the size of her expenditures or Thompson’s.

“If you look at the spending in the last election, (the successful mayoral candidate) spent around that much,” she said. “I don’t think of it as an unusual amount.”

Outgoing Mayor Brad Brown spent more than $18,000 on his 2001 re-election.

Bill Bozart, executive director of Common Cause Georgia, a non-partisan citizen’s organization that tends to champion populist causes, said that the stakes of a local election can make it easy for the receipts to pile up.

“We are beginning to see big war chests in sleepy little places that never had much action,” he said. “Brunswick may be a small place, but there may be land or rezoning decisions to be made by city officials, so the candidates for those positions tend to attract big donations.”

And former candidate Elaine Brown said the stakes are definitely high in this year’s mayoral contest.

“With a billion-dollar project on the horizon, this mayor’s race is important, and everyone knows why,” she said. “I wish I had spent more and had more to spend. I wish I had put up more signs and had more legal help.

“If I had spent money on a lawyer for my cases, they might have turned out differently,” added Brown, who represented herself in her hearings before both the Glynn County Board of Elections and a Superior Court judge.

In comparison to the big-spenders, Herrington, the only other mayoral candidate on the ballot with Thompson, reported about $1,000 in expenditures. Write-in Bean reported spending just $2,584.

Bean said that her spending was dictated by the nature of her contributions.

“My contributions came from friends and people who know me through my civic activism,” she said. “These aren’t wealthy people. Most gave (small donations). I didn’t have any corporate money.”

Bean said that is the way it should be in all elections.

“Raising that much money for a position that pays $13,500 should give voters cause to wonder,” she said. “I’m not indebted to anyone for any tit for tat. I think that’s the way it should be at all levels.”

Like Brown, however, Thompson said his expenditures were necessary.

“Based on the advice I got from people who’ve done this before, you are going to spend money, so you plan on raising it and you plan on spending it,” he said.

Brown agreed with that position.

“A lot of people probably thought they’d walk into office without a fight, but I knew I’d have to fight and so did (Thompson),” she said. “The bottom line was I wanted to win.”

Brown said the duration of the campaign was also a huge factor.

“When you consider that I’ve been operating since May, I think I’m operating at a very low level,” she said. “I have all volunteers, but I still had to pay rent (for campaign headquarters), phone bills, and keep the lights on since May.”

Though he was surprised initially, Thompson said he is now where he expected to be financially.

“We are right on budget and doing exactly what we planned to do,” he said.

In the two city commission races also on the ballot Tuesday, none of the seven candidates for the two seats – one from each ward – reported spending more than $4,000. City commissioners are paid $9,500 per year.

If any candidate closes out the campaign with unspent money, according to the Georgia Ethics Commission, those funds must be given to a charitable organization or a national, state or local political party or candidate, used to repay campaign debts or fund future campaigns for the same office, or be returned to contributors.


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