PORTLAND — The rising cost of campaigning for City Council seats has moderated so far this year.
Semi-annual finance reports filed July 16 for races in Districts 1 and 2 and an at-large seat show candidates are off the pace from the last three elections.
The early leader in fundraising is District 2 incumbent Councilor Spencer Thibodeau, with more than $8,100 in contributions. He has actually spent more than than all other candidates have raised so far, reporting $4,600 in expenditures, with another $2,900 in unpaid debt.
Thibodeau raised more then $15,000 when he first ran in 2015.
Incumbent District 1 Councilor Belinda Ray reported raising $2,300. Joey Brunelle, who is seeking to unseat at-large incumbent Councilor Nick Mavodones, reported raising $1,600.
Mavodones and District 1 candidate Matt Coffey had yet to file finance reports required after raising or spending $500 by June 30.
Brunelle, who finished second in the three-candidate race won by at-large Councilor Jill Duson in 2017, said last week he will limit the contributions he receives for his campaign, taking no money from outside Maine; political action committees, companies or corporations, or real estate developers.
He defined developers as “anyone who makes a majority of their household income from the investment in residential, commercial or industrial building projects.”
Brunelle also asked other candidates to limit themselves in similar fashion, if only to start a conversation.
“The more money candidates start raising for the races, the higher the bar becomes for people to run for them,” he said.
At this time last year, at-large council candidate Bree LaCasse had raised more than $19,000. She ended up raising $50,000, but finished behind Duson and Brunelle.
In July 2016, at-large Councilor Pious Ali raised more than $15,000 through June 30.
In all in 2015, both Thibodeau and District 1 candidate Brandon Mazer raised more than $15,000.
On July 20, Thibodeau said will not restrict contribution sources, and wants to raise money in order to spend time campaigning later.
“I’d rather be knocking on doors,” he said.
As a real estate attorney, he said it “would be odd” not to accept contributions from developers as defined by Brunelle, but remains confident his record shows he is not influenced by any contributors as he decides on policy.
On Monday, Jon Torsch, who serves on the executive board of the Southern Maine Democratic Socialists of America, announced his candidacy for the District 2 council seat.
In a press release, Torsch said he will adhere to guidelines suggested by Brunelle, and if elected, work to “develop a municipal clean elections policy.”
On July 19, Ray said she has set a $6,500 cap on fundraising and will also forgo PAC and corporate contributions. She has accepted a $500 contribution from Developers Collaborative principal Kevin Bunker, and is wary of using broad definitions in deciding whose support she might accept, but as wary of expensive campaigns.
“I don’t like the idea of municipal races having huge amounts of money, I don’t think it is necessary,” Ray said. “I plan to do what I did before, knock on doors, you don’t need money for that.”
While it will have no bearing on election financial reporting this year, Ray has also proposed a change to the City Charter that will require candidates to file election finance reports 42 days before each general election in November.
Candidates now may have to file finance reports by June 30, but are not required to file reports again until 11 days before the general election. The next reporting date this year is Oct. 26.
State candidates are required to file financial reports 42 days before a general election, and Ray said it is time to require that in Portland, in part because absentee ballots are available before spending reports.
“I think it makes sense for people to know how a campaign is being funded before they vote,” she said.
The charter change will be subject to an Aug. 13 public hearing before councilors vote on whether to put it on the Nov. 6 ballot.
Portland City Councilors Belinda Ray, left, and Spencer Thibodeau, right, said they expect personal contact with voters to play as large a role as fundraising as they seek re-election this year. Behind them is Mayor Ethan Strimling.