The refrain from north Spokane residents is familiar: Why does city government pay more attention to South Side concerns?
Here’s one possible explanation: South Side residents give local politicians more money.
Campaign donors like to say that contributions don’t buy votes, they merely ensure access. But if a person or group wants to talk about a bad road, a traffic problem or zoning issue, that requires access.
A computer analysis of campaign contribution reports filed by candidates in this year’s Spokane municipal elections shows the money for commercials, yard signs and billboards is far more likely to come from addresses south of the Spokane River.
The biggest donors thus far to this year’s municipal campaigns are the candidates themselves and development interests, the study shows.
It also shows that so far, the candidates have raised far less money than in 1993, the last time Spokane elected a mayor and three City Council members.
Spokane voters go to the polls Tuesday to whittle their options for mayor and council, as well as a seat on the Spokane School District Board. Residents of Airway Heights, Cheney, Deer Park and Medical Lake, the East Valley and Riverside school districts, Fire District 3 and the Four Lakes Water District also have election choices to make.
It’s not a countywide election, so it won’t involve many unincorporated areas. But polls in precincts that have issues to be decided will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Most of the attention, as well as most of the money, has been focused on the Spokane city races.
Candidates for mayor and the three council seats have raised more than $65,000, less than half the $149,000 collected at the same time four years ago.
The big ticket race is for Spokane mayor, which features incumbent Jack Geraghty, former Mayor Sheri Barnard, state Rep. Duane Sommers and citizen activist John Talbott. A fifth candidate, David Howell, has not campaigned actively and has not returned repeated phone calls to discuss his candidacy.
A study conducted by The Spokesman-Review shows most candidates got nearly half of their identifiable donations from south Spokane. Less than a fourth came from addresses north of the river, and the rest came from outside the city, or was collected in amounts of less than $25, for which candidates are not required to list a contributor’s name and address.
The most lucrative places for most candidates to look for money are the South Hill and Moran Prairie. About one of every four dollars collected thus far comes from those areas.
The pattern was the same in 1993. Donors with addresses in those areas contributed the most in a year that saw Barnard ousted in the primary and Geraghty elected mayor.
But the biggest single donor so far lives in north Spokane. He’s also in the race. Talbott has loaned or given his campaign $5,400, about the same amount he spent on his 1993 primary bid for mayor.
Talbott is not the only mayoral hopeful to pump money into his or her campaign. Sommers, who has served eight of the last 11 years in the Legislature, funneled about $1,500 in leftover funds from last year’s House campaign into the mayoral race, and Barnard has spent about $1,000.
After Talbott, the largest donor to all races is the Spokane Home Builders Association, an industry group that represents developers and contractors. That trade group has kicked in a total of $3,265, spreading its money among Sommers and council candidates Rob Higgins and Cherie Rodgers.
Among the corporate donors that have given more than $1,000 to city candidates are Salmon Creek Leasing and Investments, a north Spokane leasing and engineering consulting firm; Candidates Political Action Fund, a campaign committee of the state Realtors Association; and Metropolitan Mortgage Co., a property investment and development company.
Unlike national campaigns, businesses can give money directly to candidates for city offices. Unlike federal or state campaigns, there are no limits to those contributions.
According to campaign reports on file as of Friday, the candidates had raised and spent far less than in 1993, when a five-way primary and the subsequent general election set a record for campaign spending in Spokane.
Sommers leads the mayoral candidates with about $15,000, followed by Geraghty with $10,600. Talbott and Barnard trail with about $6,800 and $5,500.
The race for an open council seat is also shaping up as an expensive one. Former gubernatorial representative Judith Gilmore, former Councilman Higgins and former county GOP chairwoman Charlotte Karling have all tapped private and corporate donors in their quest to make it through the primary.