- Family Features
- Business Directory
- Gallery Of Homes
- Subscribe Now!
- Place A Classified Ad
- New! Digital e-Edition
Local political races getting expensive
Oct 03, 2005 12:00 am
September 28, 2005
Monday's highly-charged election forum at Pickett-Rucker United Methodist Church proved the Mayor's race is already a contentious endeavor.
But it is also an expensive one, and that is evident from the numerous pieces of campaign literature Mayor Don Fox and challenger William Farmer have sent to thousands of voters over the past few weeks.
Exact figures on how much is being spent on the race – and what the money is being spent on – are unavailable. Election law requires every candidate to file two financial disclosure reports. The first reports were filed in January, but the second and final report is not due until weeks before the election in October.
Still, election experts and even Wilson County candidates themselves say these local races are getting more expensive with every passing cycle, and the sky is the limit.
"Elections have gotten to be entirely too costly," said William Farmer, who recently sent out at least three direct mail pieces – two within a four-day span – in his bid to unseat Mayor Don Fox. "But the problem we have is that the issues do not get out there too many times, when people in power do anything to avoid discussing the issues."
Farmer said public debates such as Monday's are valuable, but they are not enough to ensure his campaign message reaches every voter in Lebanon.
So Farmer has turned to direct mail to accomplish that goal.
"Certainly you are concerned about the money that's needed to get the message out," he said. "But I'm committed to getting the important issues before the people, and will continue to do everything I can to see that that is done."
Fox has also sent out his own campaign literature to voters this year and in years past. In 2001, Fox spent $22,508 on his re-election campaign, $11,636 of which was spent on direct mail, according to his financial disclosure reports for that election.
And Fox agreed the amount spent on communicating with voters is too high.
"It's ridiculous," he said.
Like Farmer, he argued it is the cost of doing business in races that are fraught with accusations and counter-accusations.
"We have raised over $50,000, but it costs that much to respond, and to remind the people that this is what I've done," Fox said.
Regarding the amount being spent on the Lebanon mayor's race, County Mayor Robert Dedman said, "I think that's a whole lot of money to spend on a local race."
Dedman added while raising money requires a significant amount of time and organization and is a necessary part of running for office, it is problematic in a larger civic sense.
"It knocks some people out who may want to run but just can't raise that kind of money," he said. "It's a shame that it costs that much money this day and age to get that word out."
Fox agreed candidates with smaller bank accounts are at a disadvantage and said he would like to see the state legislature impose spending caps on candidates and limit cash contributions.
"I think that a person who doesn't have a bank account or the financial means that others do should be able to run for mayor of Lebanon."
Dedman, who said he is leaning toward running again next year but has not yet made an official decision, said fund raising is a serious part of his decision-making process.
But when it comes to raising tens of thousands of dollars, "You've just go to when you run countywide," he said. "Because you just can't see everybody face-to-face."
Wilson County Sheriff Terry Ashe is another politician staring down the prospect of raising a great deal of money for his 2006 re-election campaign. While he said fund raising is "the least favorite thing I have to do politically," he said it is often a indication of the strength of the campaign.
"You can talk about running for office a lot, but Politics 101 is all about whether or not you can raise the money," he said. "If you're going to be a serious candidate you're going to need to raise serious money."
Tennessee Registry of Election Finance Executive Director Drew Rawlins said he has not conducted any formal studies or comparisons of the rising cost of local elections, but said "overall, it probably has gotten more expensive in your heated races."
Dedman and Ashe said the trend of expensive local elections will continue.
Ashe said the trend will cause two problems – it will become more difficult to raise money from individuals and it will become harder to identify your donors.
When that happens, "they had better watch where they raise it from," he said.