Yes Weekly: The Business of Elections in Greensboro
Municipal elections are a nearly half-million-dollar industry every odd year in Greensboro. In 2007, more than $450,000 washed through the election system, raised from homebuilders, lawyers and other citizens with a stake in city politics, funneled into the coffers of candidates’ campaign and then drained back out in expenditures for yard signs, newspaper ads, billboard displays, payments to poll workers and rental fees for banquet halls.
…The cost of Greensboro municipal elections has more than tripled since 2001, with the total spent by victorious candidates rising from $73,901 in 2001 to $282,623 in 2007.
…The three at-large seats range from $19,547 to $27,889 each. Some district seats go for more than others. The District 4 seat in the city’s affluent northwest quadrant averages $15,119, while District 3 runs $13,303.
…Our campaign finance shows that the average candidate usually gets about 10 percent of their funds from small donors — meaning people who gave less than $50.
“It’s much more efficient to raise your cash from the big donors,” [‘Josh Glasser of Common Cause of North Carolina told delegates at a Greensboro Neighborhood Congress meeting on Sept. 12, Glasser continued.’] “That means courting interests that often come before the city council and ask for favorable regulations and favorable rules. If you survey the sitting Greensboro City Council, every single member would have to admit that their largest or second largest donation came from someone connected to the real-estate industry or the developers industry.”
…District 3 candidate George Hartzman, who attended the meeting, argued that reform needs to be taken a step further.
“You have these people who are wanting to do business with the government, and they’re paying for their election. And then they get elected and they put a proposal in front of the people that they paid to get elected. And then the people who got elected vote for the thing that the person wants to have passed. It’s a conflict of interest…. Why aren’t we looking at not letting the people who are contributing to elections not being able to do business with the city for X amount of time before and after they give the money? Doesn’t that seem simple? It’s basic ethics.”
Zack Matheny, the incumbent in the District 3 race, was first elected in 2007 in a contest with four other opponents in which Matheny quickly emerged as the leading fundraiser. Matheny raised a total of $46,358 [while serving on Greensboro’s Zoning Commission] and secured 58.9 percent of the vote in the general election. His opponent, Joe Wilson, raised only $13,795.
…Newspapers are not far behind printers in a ranking of sectors that financially profit from campaigns. Victorious Greensboro city council candidates spent a total of $68,615 on printing in 2007, and $61,351 on newspaper advertising. One newspaper, the conservative-leaning Rhinoceros Times, dominates the trade, pulling in $26,030 in 2007, followed by the News & Record, with $17,558; the Carolina Peacemaker, with $8,928; The Greensboro Times, with $3,690; and YES! Weekly, with $3,300.
...Adams, Jones, Johnson and Wells are among the six black elected officials who hold voting privileges on the George C. Simkins Jr. Memorial Political Action Committee, commonly known as the Simkins PAC, or simply the PAC. The PAC sends out a mailing during every election to households in predominantly African-American areas of the city that lists its favored candidates.
A white politician who runs citywide, Groat contributed $1,500 to the Simkins PAC in 2007, on top of her payments to Adams and The Greensboro Times,…the newspaper owned by Rep. Earl Jones… Her total payments to the three entities come to $3,362. The PAC reasoned that “Sandra has completed her first term and will continue to be responsive and open-minded.”
Robbie Perkins, another white politician running citywide, also received the PAC’s endorsement. He paid at total of $1,700 to the PAC and related entities.
Three other white candidates received the PAC’s endorsement. Zack Matheny spent $450 with The Greensboro Times on advertising and contributed $200 to the Simkins PAC.
Candidate spending, 2007
1. Mayor Yvonne Johnson — $97,201
2. Mayor Pro Tem Sandra Anderson Groat — $46,414
3. District 3 Councilman Zack Matheny — $45,868
4. At-large Councilman Robbie Perkins — $38,968
5. District 5 Councilwoman Trudy Wade — $22,595 ($38,379) *
6. At-large Councilwoman Mary Rakestraw — $16,075
7. District 2 Councilwoman Goldie Wells — $7,520
8. District 4 Councilman Mike Barber — $4,982
9. District 1 Councilwoman Dianne Bellamy-Small — $1,300 (estimated)
* Wade paid Republican consultant Bill Burckley $13,784 in January 2008, two months after the election, for mailings. To cover the bill, she raised $11,575, mainly from individuals connected to the real estate, development and building industries, and loaned herself $2,500.
Most expensive races (avg. of victors’ expenditures, 2001-2007)
1. Mayor — $33,091
2. At-large — $19,547-$27,889
3. District 4 — $15,119
4. District 3 — $13,303
5. District 5 — $11,056
6. District 2 — $8,101
7. District 1 — $3,288
Fundraising, 2007 Greensboro municipal election
1. Amount raised Jan. 1-June 30: $10,845
2. Amount raised July 1-Aug. 28: $83,706
3. Amount raised Aug. 29-Sept. 30: $124,616
4. Amount raised Oct. 1-28: $160,194
5. Amount raised Oct. 29-Dec. 31: $84,710