Wide gap in campaign finance favors incumbents

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Justin Outling

by Eric Ginsburg

Finance reports from primary election candidates tell who’s receiving support — and from where — before the Greensboro City Council primary on Oct. 6.

Nancy Vaughan didn’t collect or spend a dime on her reelection campaign this month, and why should she? The Greensboro mayor already had almost $25,000 cash on hand by Sept. 2, and her two opponents don’t plan to raise more than a grand.

For challenger Sal Leone, a Thomasville police officer, it’s a point of pride. In a recent candidate forum, he bragged about his decision not to accept donations, arguing that there would be nobody pulling his strings. Follow the money, he claimed, and you’ll see who controls other candidates.

Donors kicked in a considerable amount of money to the two incumbents in this year’s primary races — Mayor Nancy Vaughan and, in District 3, Justin Outling. Together, Outling’s two opponents had raised less than $3,000 as of Monday, not much compared to Outling’s $10,210 total in individual contributions so far.

The gap is more startling in the mayor’s race, where Leone and fellow challenger Devin King signed statements that they don’t plan to raise more than $1,000 each this election cycle, allowing them to avoid filing detailed paperwork.

Vaughan disagreed with Leone’s characterization, saying she has pushed for more transparent economic disclosures for council, while adding that people can make their own conclusions about her broad cross-section of contributors. She received the biggest gift from her husband. Don Vaughan, a lawyer and former Democratic state senator, kicked in $2,861, including $325 in-kind in the form of beer, wine and setup for a fundraiser.

Vaughan received considerable financial support from homemakers, including Joanne Schlaginhaufen ($900), Anne Hummel ($800), Leig Seager ($625) and Kellie Melinda ($500). Together they gave more than Vaughan’s second biggest contributor this cycle, Joseph M. Bryan, who added $1,500 to the mayor’s efforts. Jim Melvin, a former mayor and president of the Bryan Foundation gave $850, as did retired Cone Health executive Dennis Barry. The only other gift above $800 came from community volunteer Melanie Soles ($975).

Other notable donors to Vaughan’s campaign include developers such as Milton Kern ($500) and George Carr III ($300), of Beacon Management Group. Gordon Craig, Ronald Mack, and Stephen Showfety — respectively the CFO, executive vice president and president of Koury Corp., — each wrote checks for $350, as did Triad Local First director Luck Davidson.

Here are a few more: Downtown Greensboro Inc. COO Cyndy Hayworth ($150), lawyer and school board chair Alan Duncan ($100), former mayor Carolyn Allen ($200), former Greensboro Housing Coalition director Beth McKee-Huger ($450) and Susan Schwartz, the executive director of the Cemala Foundation ($250).

As noted above, Vaughan’s challengers Leone and King do not have to file campaign finance reports if they remain below the $1,000 threshold.

Early voting runs from 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. thru Friday and 10 a.m. – 1 p.m. on Saturday. Polls are open from 6:30 a.m. – 7:30 p.m. on Election Day (Oct. 6).

Justin Outling, who was appointed to fill the remainder of Zack Matheny’s council term in District 3 but who hasn’t been elected yet, received significant financial backing from a wide number of people. But there’s one thing that unites many of his donors — 20 of them work for the same employer.

Outling is a lawyer at Brooks Pierce, and his campaign finance reports show that the people who work there would like to see him win. In total, his colleagues have given $4,525, according to his latest report filed on Monday, out of $10,210 total raised from individuals. His biggest contribution topped out at $500, a level at which six people gave: Brooks Group President Jefferson Brooks, Jeff Oleynik and Reid Phillips at Brooks Pierce, UNCG Vice Chancellor Janis Zink (Outling’s alma mater), developer Marty Kotis, and McKee-Huger.

His family members around the state, lawyers Jennifer and Peter Brevorka in Houston and Buffalo respectively and local foundation heads Jim Melvin and Susan Schwartz (listed above for gifts to Vaughan’s campaign) also back Outling’s candidacy.

Michael Picarelli, a member of the state Human Relations Commission and former head of the Guilford County GOP, trails Outling financially by a wide margin, though he’s brought in almost double what contender Kurt Collins has raised. Picarelli has $1,942 from individuals, according to his latest report. The biggest chunks came from Don Lyons, the president of Laurent Lyons Lighting in Boca Raton, Fla., and retired CEO and local Edward LeBlanc, each who contributed $500.

Picarelli has emphasized that the race is nonpartisan, but a significant portion of his support seems to come from a Republican base. LeBlanc, who ran a division of smoke and carbon monoxide alarm manufacturer Kidde PLC in Mebane, donated $2,500 to Romney’s 2012 presidential bid. Party activist and former candidate Teresa Yon, a proponent of the downtown noise ordinance, is Picarelli’s treasurer. She gave $208 in in-kind contributions and Lindsay Burkart, a Republican activist and community volunteer, donated $134.

Kurt Collins’ raised even less — $1,200 from individuals and $1,565 total, according to his finance report filed Monday. His two biggest donors kicked in $200 each: self-employed photographer and prominent tea partier Jeff Hyde and James Forster, the owner of Jae-Mar Brass & Lamp Co. near the Worx restaurant in downtown Greensboro. Only three other contributors are listed by name in Collins’ reports — Janet Wallace, Pamela Hanzaker and Tina Forsberg — each who gave $100 in August.

If fundraising abilities are any indication of support, the odds are overwhelming chance that Outling will make it through the primary on Oct. 6. To catch up financially, Picarelli or Collins will either need to fine-tune their sales pitch or pony up themselves, something Outling has already done for his campaign to the tune of $5,827.

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