Campaign finance injects interest in Bloomington’s District 2 city council race

In late August, at a Democratic Party caucus, District 2 Bloomington city council candidate Sue Sgambelluri offered the gathering her thoughts on Democrat Marty Spechler’s run for the District 3 seat as an independent: “First, I want to congratulate District 3 on having replaced District 2 as the most interesting race this year. Well done!”

As a matter of politically piquant interest, the Democratic Party’s internal kerfuffle in District 3 has now been eclipsed by the campaign finance reports filed last week by Republican Andrew Guenther, who is Sgambelluri’s opponent in District 2. Guenther’s level and sources of financial support have led to official statements on behalf of both their political parties.

As The Beacon reported last Saturday, Guenther’s campaign finance filings, since April 13, show itemized contributions totaling $37,375, compared to $1,919.70 for Sgambelluri. That includes $8,000 for Guenther, reported separately as a large donation, received after the most recent 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, 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.

Itemized contributions for Sgambelluri in the pre-primary reporting period—hers was a contested race—came to $3,675, which puts Sgambelluri itemized total for this year at around $5,595. It was plenty to fund the basic tools of a campaign, she told The Beacon last week. It was in the $5,000 to $6,000 range she’d been told by current and former councilmembers she’d need.

The size and the source of contributions to Guenther prompted Sgambelluri and the Monroe County Democratic Party to issue separate press releases. Sgambelluri’s statement concludes by saying:

“No other Republicans are running in this election. As a result, the Republican Party is pouring money into the District 2 race, hoping to influence its outcome. This strategy would not be necessary if the Republican Party offered ideas and a candidate that truly resonated with a range of voters in Bloomington.”

Sgambelluri’s statement ticks through some contrasts between her support and Guenther’s, including the number of individual donors (not organizations)—32 for her compared to 12 for Guenther.

The Monroe Democratic Party’s statement also highlights donations from individuals: “We ask every candidate to take an active role in building a broad support base and in personally securing campaign contributions. … Similarly, we are proud that our work as a Party is funded through contributions from a broad range of engaged citizens.” According to the release, no city council candidates in Bloomington received any direct financial support from the Democratic Party.

Asked by The Beacon in an emailed message about the Republican Party’s decision to contribute to Guenther’s campaign at the level that it did, the party’s chair, William Ellis, responded with a statement that reads in part: “As a Party we must prioritize fundraising in order to give our candidates the greatest opportunity for success. In a blue city like Bloomington, if Republicans are going to be successful now or in the future, they must be fully funded.”

Ellis calls Guenther’s campaign “efficient and frugal.” He also says “We believe [Guenther] can win. … I look forward to him not only winning in two weeks but showing Republicans what it will take to win in Monroe County in 2020.” Election Day is Nov. 5. Early voting started this week.

In the Democratic Party’s release, Doug Horn is described as a “local landlord.”  Republican Party chair William Ellis describes Horn as a “local business leader.” The statement from Ellis says, “I’m grateful for Doug’s generosity and hope that it will embolden others who want to see more Republicans in local office donate to the Party as well.”

Online Monroe County property records show Horn as owner or co-owner of around 30 parcels.  Bloomington city council meeting minutes from July 1, 2015 show that Doug Horn was, along with some other individuals and organizations, the recipient of one of the awards given by Bloomington’s historic preservation commission that year. The name of the award was “Impossible to Save.” Horn also served on Monroe County’s plan commission in the early 2010s.

[Note: Besides District 2 and District 3, none of Bloomington’s other four city council districts would likely be considered in contention for title of “home to the most interesting council race,” as elections in those districts were cancelled by Monroe County’s election board in early August. That’s because no races were contested in those districts or citywide.]