Of the candidates who have filed campaign finance forms so far — three have not reached the $1,000 threshold that requires filing — seven of the eight have kicked in their own money to help their campaigns along. Some, like John Norton, are relying almost completely on their own money to finance their campaigns ranging from $2,000 to just more than $16,000.
Mayor Gene Robinson is funding his campaign in a similar manner; he could not be reached for comment on this article.
It’s not unusual for municipal candidates to have to use some of their own money to campaign, said William Stewart, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Alabama.
“Donors would rather give to high-level campaigns,” Stewart said.
In Alabama, many of the important decisions are made at the gubernatorial or federal level, so those are the campaigns donors are most likely to give to. However, most candidates will have some level of local support.
“I would expect that business interests particularly would be interested in the outcome of municipal elections,” Stewart said.
But it may indicate a lack of support in the community if candidates are getting little to no local donations, he said.
Norton has the lowest level of local contributions at just $150, but he’s not worried.
“If it’s the good Lord’s will, I will be elected,” Norton said. “No one can speculate that anyone owns me.”
He hadn’t intended to self-fund his campaign to the degree that he has, Norton said. Charles Miller, Jr., the son of a friend, was severely injured and Norton said he’s is planning a fundraiser for him rather than for himself. He has kicked in $16,168 of his own money. He would like to have a little financial assistance in the campaign, but that’s not his priority right now.
Candidate Mike James has kicked in the least amount of his own money of any candidate. But the money he’s put in is about a third of what he’s raised so far.
“I have not asked a single soul for a penny,” James said. “This is my effort.”
He’s campaigning hard but spending little. As of his last report, he’d spent just $3,834, the least of all the candidates.
“It’s message and principle that count,” James said. “Money can’t buy that.”
He’s attended all the forums, made signs, handed out brochures and he talks to everyone he can, James said. He prefers shoe-leather campaigning.
Stewart observed that municipal elections lend themselves well to personal campaigns. Going door-to-door, to shopping centers, and speaking to civic groups can be very effective campaign tools. You have to spend enough to get your name out there. Spending too much money can have the opposite effect, he said.
“It might appear to be overkill if you spend too much,” Stewart said.
And it might not be effective. Expensive television commercials, for instance, can be wasted on viewers who live in other towns and can’t vote in the candidates’ local elections.
One candidate who’s received a lot of financial support is Vaughn Stewart. He has taken in $33,024 in campaign contributions. He has also far outspent every other candidate at $28,794.33. The next biggest spender is Ann Welch at $15,709.
Welch said she has spent the vast majority of money on signs and printed material.
“Just to get information out about me,” Welch said. “So people will recognize my name.”
It’s also an honor in a way, because every sign out there represents a supporter. Her supporters, friends and family are the people who have placed the signs and handed out the material, Welch said. But she is also doing a lot of knocking on doors and talking to people. It’s something that she’s been surprised to find is fun.
“You don’t very often have a chance to just knock on a door and chat,” Welch said.
It’s been a totally new experience and it’s taught her as much about her community as it has made people aware of her.
“So many times, people ask you things that you have not thought about, make suggestions you have not thought about,” Welch said.
George Salmon, another mayoral hopeful, has spent $10,548 on his campaign so far. More than half that, $5,757, he spent on direct mailers that will reach every household in Anniston.
He’s spent a lot on signs, pens and other promotional material, but getting the mailer in the hands of voters was important to him.
“Signs help with name recognition, but I don’t think that’s a problem for me,” said Salmon, a former radio talk show host and radio executive.
He’s appeared on several radio and television talk shows and, like the other candidates, he’s also doing a lot of door-to-door campaigning. But one of the biggest benefits for his campaign, he believes, is that he started so early. Salmon started campaigning last December. That gave him some extra time to pick up campaign contributions that he might not have gotten otherwise, bringing him in second to Vaughn Stewart at $15,510 in contributions.
That really wasn’t Salmon’s aim though. He had intended to fund the campaign on his own.
“I’ve been pleasantly surprised by all of it,” Salmon said.