Incumbent Dennis Hession has a substantial lead over challenger Al French in the quest for money to run their campaigns for mayor.
Reports filed this week with the state Public Disclosure Commission show that Hession has more than $29,000 in cash and other contributions – much of it coming last month. French, who didn’t officially start his campaign until mid-February, lists just three donors and a total of $850.
Hession has several $1,000 donations from builders such as Garco, Lydig and Goebel, as well as individuals like state Sen. Chris Marr and Hession’s campaign co-chairs, Steve and Lorrie McNutt. But his biggest donor is the region’s private utility, Avista Corp., which hasn’t given him any money but did pay a Portland company $9,900 for a poll, which it then donated to the Hession campaign.
“We’re feeling good about (total contributions) in terms of getting out of the starting blocks,” Steve McNutt said.
French said he wasn’t concerned about the disparity because he had only been in the campaign for two weeks before the reports were due.
“We’ve ramped up our fundraising effort,” French said. “I’ll outpace him in a couple of months, so I’m not worried.”
Neither Avista nor the Hession campaign would discuss the results of the poll, designed to provide a baseline for voter opinions during the coming campaign.
“The contents are private. We’re not going to share them,” Steve McNutt said.
Tom Paine of Avista described the poll as a way “to get an assessment of where the mayor stood in the minds of the voters.” It asked voters their opinions of Hession, French, other potential candidates and “a few issues,” he said. It wasn’t funded by ratepayers, he said. Avista makes political contributions out of money that would otherwise go to stockholders.French, who in the past has received contributions from Avista, said he wasn’t surprised the utility was supporting the incumbent.
“They’ve got Avista’s interests to protect,” which he said includes a major effort to relicense hydroelectric dams in the area. The city supports Avista’s relicensing plan, with city officials testifying for the utility’s draft environmental impact statement at a federal hearing last month and sending additional comments on that report earlier this month.
Steve McNutt said Avista’s contribution of the poll has no connection to Hession’s support of the utility’s dam relicensing.
“I trust Dennis’ integrity on that, to make the decision on dam relicensing on the issues,” Steve McNutt said.
As far as spending the money that has come in, neither campaign reports significant costs at this point. But Steve McNutt confirmed that future Hession reports will be listing expenses for campaign consultant Stan Shore of Olympia, who operates Polis Political Services.
Shore has a checkered history in local politics. He was a longtime political ally of Jim West, helping on some of West’s successful legislative campaigns and his unsuccessful fight against recall. Shore helped West with a successful campaign for a street bond issue in 2005, and has worked for many GOP legislative campaigns around Spokane.
He also was involved in a last-minute attack against John Powers in the 2000 mayoral campaign, which ultimately led to Metropolitan Mortgage & Securities Co. being fined by the PDC for illegal contributions to the independent campaign organizations that were set up. In 2003, Shore’s company created a negative ad against Powers shortly before the primary, which Metropolitan tried to list as an in-kind contribution to candidates who later disavowed the ad.
Shore is “helping with fundamental strategy” on the campaign, Steve McNutt said. Hession “has been impressed with Stan’s fundamental knowledge of the political landscape.”
The mayor is aware of Shore’s reputation but doesn’t intend to use him for negative campaigning, McNutt added.
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