Bloomington city council campaign filings: Party support means Republican candidate enjoys 20-to-1 funding advantage over Democrat

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The banner for early voting hangs at Election Central at 7th and Madison streets in downtown Bloomington. Early voting starts Oct. 21. The deadline for filing campaign finance reports for the period ending Oct. 11 was last Friday at noon. (Dave Askins/Beacon)

Friday at noon was the deadline for pre-election campaign finance filings in Bloomington’s city council races. Election Day is Nov. 5.

The campaign finance forms filed for Bloomington’s District 3 city council race by were pretty much politics as usual.

One District 3 candidate, independent Marty Spechler, didn’t file the paperwork by the deadline, which is not smiled upon by election officials, but is not all that uncommon. The other two District 3 candidates, Democrat Ron Smith and independent Nick Kappas, together raised in the neighborhood of $3,000.

But the way that sum was divided between the independent and the Democrat was maybe a little unusual for Bloomington’s political culture, which is mostly dominated by Democrats. The $2,350 in itemized contributions collected by Kappas for the filing period was more than twice as much as the $973.22 shown on Smith’s paperwork.

Definitely unusual was the  nearly 20-to-1 funding gap between Republican Andrew Guenther and Democrat Sue Sgambelluri in District 2.  Guenther’s contributions totaled $37,375, compared to $1,919.70 for Sgambelluri. That includes $8,000 for Guenther reported separately as a large donation, after the reporting period ended.

The largest part of contributions to Guenther’s campaign, including the separately reported $8,000, came from the Monroe County Republican Party. Added to the $22,500 donated to Guenther by the party since the reporting period started (on April 13), it would bring Guenther’s Republican Party total to $30,500.

The Republican Party’s filing shows that of its  $31,790 in itemized contributions, $30,000 came from a single donor, Doug Horn.

On Nov. 5 this year, city council Districts 2 and 3 are the only districts where elections are being held. Elections are not being held in Bloomington’s other four districts because the county election board cancelled them, because none of the races were contested there, and no citywide races were contested.

Contributions: Numbers

District Candidate Itemized
Cash On Hand
2 Andrew Guenther $37,375.00 $23,433.46 $7,545.29
2 Sue Sgambelluri $1,919.70 $2,699.05 $1,423.93
3 Nick Kappas $2,350.00 $999.25 $1,637.97
3 Ron Smith $973.22 $655.99 $637.70
3 Marty Spechler did not file


District 2: Overview

Financial  backing from the party is not a part of the picture for Sue Sgambelluri’s campaign. The entry on her filing for the Monroe County Democratic Party, listed at $250, is an expenditure not a contribution.

If Guenther’s party backing is set aside, and if a $4,000 refund from one vendor is subtracted from the itemized contributions, Guenther collected $2,875 from nine donors. Sgambelluri received her $1,920 from 20 donors.

Sgambelluri received contributions from a few current and former local elected officials, all Democrats: Iris Kiesling (city council 1988–1996); Geoff McKim (current county council); Susan Sandberg (current city council); and Jim Sims (current city council).

The money donated to Guenther from the Republican Party came from local fundraising efforts, and Guenther turned out to be the sole candidate for the Republicans in a contested election.

District 2: Guenther

How much has Guenther spent so far? His filed papers show $23,453 in itemized expenses.

What has he spent it on? Here’s a breakdown sorted from largest to smallest dollar amount:

Description Vendor Amount
phone/text systems Robert Burgess $5,743.80
create campaign video Fuhs video $5,054.06
campaign manager Cardinal Contact $4,000.00
digital marketing Prosper group $1,950.00
transportation Uber $1,685.14
printing VistaPrint $1,262.54
T-shirts Spreadshirt $608.42
photography Wes Lasher $600.00
office supplies Staples $594.63
ads Facebook $565.21
graphic design Justin Muse $355.35
donation United Way $260.00
food Kroger $211.03
free lance graphics Fiverr $182.00
printing PIP Printing $170.89
website Wix $158.96
buttons Wacky Buttons $56.11

On Friday Guenther told The Beacon the phone system has allowed him and volunteers to make more than 1,000 calls. He estimates that maybe 25 percent of those have wound up with a conversation. The list of numbers was purged of non-working numbers and updated with changed numbers, he said. The text messaging system will also be used on election day to remind people to go vote.

When it became evident that the campaign would have adequate funds to pursue aggressive strategies to reach a lot of voters, a decision was made to spend money on digital marketing—Facebook, Instagram, Youtube and Google search, Guenther said. Key words that influenced display of Guenther’s ads in search results included “Sgambelluri.”

The decision to invest in the creation of videos followed from the choice to invest in social media advertising—the point is to drive online users to something you want them to look at, Guenther said. So the three clips produced by Fuhs Video give people something interesting to watch, he said, once they’d been led to look at them by digital advertising.

The cash he still has on hand isn’t going to be spent on anything categorically different than what Guenther has done so far. Asked if motorists along SR-46 bypass could expect to see billboards touting Guenther for city council, he said no. Voters in District 2 will get around a half dozen pieces of mail from him, Guenther said.

Guenther’s campaign paperwork runs 40 pages, because it includes 169 separate entries for rides that he’s taken with Uber, the ride hailing service.

Asked about the Uber rides, which total nearly $1,700, Guenther said he doesn’t drive—he’s never driven. Taking Uber was based on the idea that a candidate’s time is valuable, he said. The time he spends walking to a place to canvass could be better spent on actual canvassing, he said. Taking Uber also allowed him to meet with nonprofits that he otherwise could not have—because they’re located too far away to walk. He gave Area 10 Agency on Aging in Ellettsville as an example.

District 2: Sgambelluri

Asked by The Beacon on Saturday if she was able to raise enough money to pay for the things she wanted to do as a candidate, Sgambelluri said, “Certainly!” Some things require money. The basics, she agreed, are: yard signs; a mailing; printed literature; and a website.

The goal of the spending on those basics, Sgambelluri said, is to inform voters about yourself as a candidate so that voters can make an informed decision. “Beyond that, it’s kinda fluff,” she added.

Sgambelluri said the expenditures pay for tools that support a campaign, but are not the campaign itself. A campaign, she said, is about  “legwork” and talking to voters. “A campaign is mostly about listening,” she said.

Sgambelluri said before she decided to run she asked around informally: How much does it take to run a council race for a district (as opposed to the citywide at-large seats)? The answer she got was around $5,000 to $6,000, for primary and general election combined.  Sgambelluri’s pre-primary statement shows  $3,675 in contributions, which puts her in that range, when added to the $1,920 she collected in the most recent reporting period.

Sgambelluri said the amount of money Guenther has available to spend is not unexpected, given that the Republican Party has no other candidates in the county who have a contested race. She said that if a candidate has compelling ideas that resonate with voters, they don’t need to spend $30,000 on a campaign.

District 3

Democrat Ron Smith told The Beacon that he didn’t hold any fundraisers for this reporting period. Asking people for money is not something he enjoys, he said. Of the $973.22 in contributions he collected for this reporting cycle, $673.22 was a contribution he made to his own campaign, bringing his own contribution for the whole year to $1,756.82. The other $300 was contributed by at-large city councilmember Jim Sims.

Smith told The Beacon his campaign had enough money to do the things he felt it needed to do, like print literature and send out some mailings.

The leadership of the Democratic Party had been helpful Smith said, giving advice on when to send out the mailings, for example. He’d initially considered sending one out in July. But based on advice from people like the Monroe County Democratic Party’s executive director, Kaisa Goodman, he’s planned three mailings in quick succession between now and Election Day.

Independent Nick Kappas’s $2,350 came from eight donors, the largest of which was $1,000 from the Indiana Realtors Political Action Committee.  Asked what he would have done with additional resources, Kappas said, “I would have purchased more promotional and general election materials to get my name out to the voter populace within District 3 on a more routine basis, whether by additional mailers or online ads.”

Kappas said, “It comes down to getting as many points of contact as possible with each voter.”