Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Municipal to Midterms: A quick look at where local politicians are getting campaign cash

Candidates at every level, from local to federal, rely on campaign contributions to fuel their electoral bids. (Port City Daily/File)

SOUTHEASTERN N.C. — With a local election inbound later this year and a midterm election on the horizon, candidates new and familiar are building bankrolls to compete in their contests. In odd-numbered years the campaign finance reporting requirements for many offices are more relaxed than in even-numbered election years, when candidates must produce four quarterly reports detailing receipts and expenditures. 

The campaign finance reports available this summer, which show transactions between Jan. 1 and June 30, 2021, offer a glimpse into political alliances and relationships. More campaign finance data for upcoming state and county races — showing transactions taking place in the latter six months of 2021 — will not be available until January 2022.

READ MORE: One Raleigh super PAC perfectly predicted the New Hanover County Commissioners election

U.S. Rep. David Rouzer predictably secured the most funding of Cape Fear candidates during the first six months of 2021. During that window his campaign committee raised around $228,000 — raking in $161,000 from individual contributions and $67,000 from political action committees, including the National Turkey Federation and groups representing agriculture, insurance and transportation interests. 

Rouzer’s campaign committee spent around $316,500 during the first six months of 2021. Nearly $100,000 was spent on operating expenditures. Rouzer also sent two payments totaling $200,000 to the National Republican Congressional Committee. He had $1.35 million in cash on hand at the end of June. 

Steve Miller, one of Rouzer’s Democratic challengers for the 2022 race, raised $9,695 and spent $3,401. Campaign finance reports for Jason Minnicozzi, the other Democratic contestant, are not available.

Michael Lee, the state senator representing New Hanover County, raised $12,120 in the first half of 2021. Two higher-ups at EUE/Screen Gems Studios, media executive Christopher Cooney and executive vice president Bill Vassar, each contributed $1,500 to Lee. They both made their payments a few days after Lee filed a bill that would boost the coffers of the Film and Entertainment Grant Fund by $34 million for two years. 

READ MORE: 2021 is smashing records for NC film, Gov. Cooper applauds industry’s revival in Wilmington

Lee’s other campaign contributors this year included the Wilmington Anesthesiology PAC ($1,500), the N.C. State Farm Agents and Associates PAC ($5,600) and the N.C. Land Title Association PAC ($1,000). 

In terms of costs, Lee’s committee spent $4,400 between January and June, largely on office supplies and basic operating expenses. Attorney Matt Cunningham of Lee Kaess, PLLC — Lee’s law firm — received $1,000 from Lee’s committee in two payments made by check. 

Data on the finances of Wilmington City Council candidates is still not widely available. Some candidates have yet to file the semi-annual disclosure forms, while others hadn’t yet made major financial moves by July. 

Jonathan Uzcategui, the Republican newcomer, appears to have had the most successful fundraising season of all city council candidates. He reported gains of $17,893, all from individuals, during the first half of 2021. He also spent $18,767.

Mayor Bill Saffo did not receive any campaign contributions during the first six months of 2021, according to his campaign finance reports. Developer Roy Carroll — whose company is behind the delayed Avenue project on Military Cutoff Road — gave Saffo a $2,000 check last May, the most recent contribution to the mayor’s campaign committee. (Carroll docked his superyacht “Skyfall” at Wrightsville Beach Marina for a few weeks this summer, WECT reported, before the vessel took off to the Mediterranean Sea for charters.)

Saffo’s opponent Harper Peterson, the former mayor of Wilmington, reported expenditures of $3,526. His committee received a $26,400 “refund” from the Washington, D.C. media firm Buying Time LLC. 

In the realm of local political parties, the Republicans raised more and spent less than the Democrats. The New Hanover County GOP reported contributions of $23,232 and expenditures of $5,429 during the first half of 2021. New Hanover County Democrats took in $16,665 and spent $12,410. 

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