Austin Mayor Steve Adler has raised $291,500 for his re-election campaign since January, plus more than $283,000 in late 2017, easily eclipsing rival Laura Morrison’s fundraising.
Adler’s latest campaign finance report filed Monday showed that the mayor’s fundraising has continued unabated since his re-election campaign began last year. Since the start of 2018, his campaign has garnered more than 1,400 contributions. He also had outstanding campaign loans to himself of $449,200.
Morrison, a former City Council member, has raised $92,294 this election cycle and loaned herself $28,000, according to campaign finance reports filed Monday, which detail campaign expenditures and contributions from January through June. In a news release, Morrison characterized this month’s fundraising reports as a “battle against special interest money.”
“It’s clear that this mayoral race is going to be a David versus Goliath battle,” she wrote. “I may not have my opponent’s personal real estate wealth and special interest money, but what my campaign does have is Austinites from all walks of life ready to fight for the community they love.”
Adler called his campaign “a people-powered campaign with no business entity, PAC or bundled money.”
“I’m ready to continue the work of tackling our biggest challenges while standing up for the city we all love,” he said in a news release.
Adler has long been known for his ability to build a formidable campaign war chest. In 2014 he became the first local candidate to raise more than $1 million — no easy task in a city that caps individual donations at $350.
Adler had raised $366,000 by this time in 2014, while his opponents, Council Members Mike Martinez and Sheryl Cole, had raised $162,000 and $94,000, respectively.
Fundraising began earlier for the mayoral candidates this cycle than it did four years ago after a court overturned the city’s six-month limit on collecting campaign money.
Adler, an attorney, is a relatively popular mayor at the head of Austin’s first district-based City Council. His tenure has included not only local initiatives, but high-profile tussles with state and federal authorities over immigration laws and local control.
Morrison, a former engineer and neighborhood activist, served on the City Council from 2008 to 2014, when she declined a movement pushing her to run for mayor. The former president of the Austin Neighborhoods Council, she has built her campaign around concerns about the city’s growth and development policies.
Many of the city’s neighborhood activists contributed to Morrison’s campaign, as well as supporters such as former Travis County Judge Bill Aleshire, Save Our Springs Alliance Executive Director Bill Bunch, NAACP Austin President Nelson Linder, Austin Affordability blogger Bill Oakley and Alamo Drafthouse CEO Tim League.
Adler’s donors included presidential daughter Luci Baines Johnson, former state Rep. Debra Danburg, former Mayor Lee Leffingwell, and local business owners and attorneys. A couple of developers of high-profile sites — Jonathan Coon, who is aiming to develop property on Lake Austin, and Jonathan Saad, who purchased a dilapidated apartment complex that was the target of a city lawsuit — contributed.
Adler also received money from newcomer candidates running for City Council in three other districts: Rich DePalma in District 8, Danielle Skidmore in District 9 and Natasha Harper-Madison in District 1.
Morrison said in an interview with the American-Statesman that the wide fundraising gap was “fully expected” and not a concern. She pointed to her experience as one of the leaders opposing a 2016 proposition led by Uber and Lyft to overturn Austin’s ride-hailing regulations — which voters defeated despite more than $10 million spent by the transportation giants to pass it — as evidence that money doesn’t necessarily buy elections.
On the other hand, a court ruling Monday allowing voters to decide how to approve widespread land-use changes such as CodeNext may affect the tenor of the race, Morrison said. Opposition to the CodeNext process has been a central theme of her campaign.
“CodeNext was always going to be a significant part of the race,” she said, “and I imagine this will ratchet it up significantly.”
Dean Rindy, a longtime Austin political consultant who is working for Adler’s campaign, said he doubted Monday’s ruling would affect the mayoral race. He too was not surprised by the fundraising gap between the candidates, saying Austin’s low campaign donation limit makes it difficult to raise money without a broad base.
“I don’t think (Morrison) has managed to grow beyond her original base, which is very strong in some areas but somewhat limited,” said Rindy, adding that she and Adler share some supporters.
The fundraising certainly makes a difference, he said.
“She is the challenger, and the challenger has to make a case for change,” he said. “That takes communication, and communication is expensive.”