Austin campaign finance: City Council frontrunners maintain leads ahead of Election Day

Several City Council candidates are holding onto wide fundraising leads over their opponents while more crowded races remain competitive with less than one week remaining until Election Day in Austin.

New campaign finance disclosures due Oct. 31 shed light on candidates’ activity as races heated up over the past month ahead of the fundraising deadline. With early voting underway, Austinites have several days left to make their picks for the positions of mayor and council member for districts 1, 3, 5, 8 and 9.

After mayoral and council contenders reported raising more than $750,000 in total from July through September, they brought in nearly half that amount—$355,362—in October alone. Spending also ramped up with $1.63 million in combined campaign expenditures in that time.

As of the end of October, all candidates reported having nearly $909,000 in total cash on hand remaining for the final stretch of the November election cycle—and December runoffs if needed. Through all of 2022, the more than 30 candidates in contention for City Council seats have raised a combined $3.39 million and spent a total of $3.01 million.

Watson stays in front

Kirk Watson continues to outpace his competition on the way to the mayor’s seat at City Hall after collecting more than three times the total donations as Celia Israel through 2022.

Watson brought in more than $113,200 in October and posted around $830,500 in campaign expenditures over the past month with over $113,100 still remaining for the days ahead. Israel reported around $58,500 in falling fundraising against $89,300 in spending with nearly $38,200 on hand.

Jennifer Virden remained in third place in terms of financial activity with just under $20,000 collected and more than $78,100 spent in October. However, she maintained a cash-on-hand advantage over her opponents with more than $252,000 remaining as of Oct. 29.

Candidates in the mayor’s race brought in a total of $1.95 million this year and spent more than $1.81 million.

Incumbents in the lead

The two races featuring incumbents appear to favor those council candidates despite pushes from their opponents.

In District 1, Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison kept her lead over three challengers through the start of the fall season with an additional $12,400 raised, $21,500 spent and more than $52,600 remaining on hand. Harper-Madison’s $157,120 fundraising total this year represents more than 88% of all contributions reported among District 1 candidates.

Misael D. Ramos posted just under $4,900 in donations and $11,200 spent through late October, building on his activity from the summer. Clinton Rarey brought in $2,600 and spent $3,300. Melonie House-Dixon did not submit a finance report.

To the south, Council Member Paige Ellis also held her wide lead over Richard Smith as the top contenders in the District 8 race; Candidates Antonio D. Ross and Kimberly P. Hawkins have not reported campaign finance activity this year.

Ellis gathered almost $6,800 and posted her most significant spending total yet, just under $80,000, in October. She maintained more than $73,600 heading into November. Meanwhile, Smith reported raising $8,500 and spending $15,500 with almost $27,000 on hand.

open seats

Races for the three seats to be vacated by current council members have had a mix of activity with a clear frontrunner in one and tighter contests in two others.

In District 3, José Velásquez stayed well ahead of his opponents through October with more than $29,000 collected and $62,500 spent. He had nearly $54,600 remaining at the start of November. Daniela Silva, Velásquez’s closest competition, raised around $7,100, spent more than $6,600 and finished October with $8,300 on hand.

Behind Silva were Gavino Fernandez, Jr. and José Noé Elías, who each gathered several hundred dollars, spent more than $3,000, and ended with more than $4,300 and $3,800 on hand, respectively. Yvonne Weldon raised several hundred dollars and spent less than $50, while Esala Wueschner did not report financial activity.

In South Austin’s District 5, several candidates reported donations totaling nearly $10,000 or more, and all candidates combined spent more than $200,000 through October.

Ryan Alter, Ken Craig and Aaron Velazquez Webman were the top three fundraisers and spenders over the past month. Alter reported bringing in just under $10,000, while Craig earned $10,775, and Webman reported $14,160 in donations. Alter outspent all of his opponents by a wide margin with expenditures totaling $81,500 in October, outpacing Craig’s $51,400 and Webman’s nearly $43,700 spent.

Stephanie Bazan was next up with more than $6,100 in reported donations and nearly $23,000 spent last month. Bill Welch and Brian Anderson II reported just over $2,000 raised and $9,000 in spending combined.

After their October activity, District 5 candidates had varying levels of cash remaining for the final weeks of their campaigns and a possible December runoff contest. Webman led with more than $34,000 remaining, followed by Bazan’s $26,400 and Craig’s $16,400. Alter had nearly $6,100 remaining, and Welch and Anderson each reported around $2,000 on hand.

In the eight-candidate field in the race to represent District 9 in Central Austin, six contenders spent at least $10,000, and several had tens of thousands more for the end of their campaigns.

Greg Smith raised more than any of his competitors in October with a $10,800 fundraising total and posted the second-highest spending total of more than $55,700. Ben Leffler outspent his opponents with $68,500 total while raising more than $6,600.

Other top contenders included Linda Guerrero with nearly $9,000 raised and $40,500 spent, Zo Qadri with $5,200 raised and $22,250 spent, Joah Spearman with $8,000 raised and $13,500 spent, and Tom Wald with $3,025 raised and $12,400 spent.

Despite raising and spending much less than her competition over the course of the race, Kym Olson remained well ahead of other District 9 hopefuls’ remaining cash-on-hand totals with almost $58,300—thanks in part to an August loan of $50,000 from Krista Olson .

Olson is followed by Leffler’s nearly $48,600 maintained, Smith with $25,800, Wald with $21,550, Guerrero with around $18,600 and Qadri’s nearly $16,000. Spearman reported more than $2,700, while candidate Zena Mitchell reported no financial activity through October.

The District 9 contest ended up being the costliest outside of the mayoral race. In total, the eight candidates raised more than $537,000 and spent more than $450,000 this year.

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