First financial reports offer a glimpse into City Council campaigns
Monday, July 18, 2022 by Jonathan Lee
It’s that time of year again. Candidates for city elections late last week shared how much money they’ve raised so far in accordance with the city’s campaign finance reporting deadline on July 15. Here, we’ll break down the results from every race.
While a strong financial report doesn’t mean a candidate is bound to win in November, nor does a bad showing spell a candidate’s doom, the report is an important indicator of a candidate’s support within the community and their campaign’s financial wherewithal.
For these local races, contributions are limited at $400, though donors don’t necessarily have to live in Austin.
The biggest story from the fundraising deadline comes from the mayor’s race. Kirk Watson, former mayor and state senator, announced a record-breaking haul of $997,464 – the largest sum ever raised by a candidate for mayor or City Council in the first reporting period, which runs from the beginning of January to the end of June.
“The base we are building is wide and deep,” Watson said in a press release. According to the release, over 3,000 people have donated to the campaign since it began four months ago. Watson has not yet released a policy platform, though he is well-known by the community.
Meanwhile, state Rep. Celia Israel, who has centered her mayoral campaign on housing and affordability, raised $253,305 – about a quarter as much as Watson. Israel in a press release said that over 2,000 people have donated to her campaign at an average of $125 per contribution. The release touts her smaller average donation size: “Celia has built a true grassroots campaign – entirely free from corporate contributions.”
Jennifer Virden, a conservative challenger, raised $84,506 the first six months of this year and another $46,670 last year. Virden, having loaned $300,000 to her campaign, has more cash on hand than Israel.
Council Member Kathie Tovo had also explored running for mayor over the past several months but announced on Friday that she does not plan to run anymore. Tovo did, however, tease a future run, saying, “After much soul-searching, I’ve decided not to run for mayor … this year.”
In addition, student candidate Phil Brual reported raising $250. Both Erica Nix and Anthony Bradshaw reported raising no money. And, as of Sunday, the report for Gary Spellman was not posted to the city’s website, though he has previously declared he would refuse all donations to his campaign.
Based solely on contributions, District 1 is the most lopsided race. Incumbent Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison raised $113,973 – over a hundred times more than the $1,060 in contributions collected by her sole competitor, Clinton Rarey. Harper-Madison has spent nearly $14,899 and loaned her campaign $9,502.
The fundraising totals from District 3 candidates show a slightly more crowded and competitive field. The lead fundraiser, José Velásquez, raised $44,351 – nearly four times as much as the next closest candidate, “young progressive” Daniela Silva. Velasquez has the backing of various politicians and small businesses. Below are the full results:
The winner will replace Council Member Pio Renteria, who has reached his term limit.
The race to succeed District 5 representative Ann Kitchen, who is also termed-out, looks to be one of the most intriguing. Several viable candidates have emerged, and all raised substantial amounts of money.
Stephanie Bazan, a self-described “native Austinite and working mom,” announced on Facebook that she has raised $54,000 so far in her campaign. In an email to the Monitor, she said her campaign has retained $50,000 of that, and has received no loans. Some information comes from a tweet by Austin American-Statesman reporter Ryan Autullo. In the same tweet, Autullo said that Aaron Webman has raised $108,000, which includes a $50,000 loan from himself. Webman could not be reached.
Ryan Alter – no relation to Mayor Pro Tem Alison Alter – is a former senate staffer to Kirk Watson. Ken Craig is policy adviser to Kitchen, and Bill Welch is an entrepreneur.
Incumbent District 8 Council Member Paige Ellis faces conservative-leaning Richard Smith in this fundraising period. Ellis, who has raised $43,748 during the latest reporting period for a total of $99,987 in contributions, has outraised Smith 3:1. Ellis, having only spent $3,049 this past six months, has $100,813 on hand – the most out of any Council candidate at this point (mayoral candidates excluded).
Smith has raised $36,131 total, including $24,936 since January. He has $41,228 on hand, thanks in part to a $16,000 loan.
Kimberly Hawkins, who entered the District 8 race on July 11, was not required to file a report yet,
The District 9 race has been one of the most anticipated, with four urbanist candidates – Ben Leffler, Zo Qadri, Joah Spearman and Tom Wald – facing off against each other. The race also includes Linda Guerrero, who has been endorsed by Tovo, and small business owner Greg P. Smith who vows to make City Council “more accountable.” All six candidates have strong financial showings.
Another candidate, Jason Hyde, filed a report but did not receive any contributions beyond a $109 loan to himself. Suzanne “Zena” Mitchell officially entered the race earlier this month, and was not required to file a July 15 report. Political observers expect the crowded race to head to a runoff.
The Austin Monitor’s work is made possible by donations from the community. Though our reporting covers donors from time to time, we are careful to keep business and editorial efforts separate while maintaining transparency. A complete list of donors is available here, and our code of ethics is explained here.
This story has been updated throughout.
Join Your Friends and Neighbors
We're a nonprofit news organization, and we put our service to you above all else. That will never change. But public-service journalism requires community support from readers like you. Will you join your friends and neighbors to support our work and mission?