One week before primary, Harp leads in fundraising

fundraising totals
Photo by Yale Daily News.

One week before New Haven voters take to the polls in the Democratic mayoral primary, campaign filings show State Sen. Toni Harp ARC ’78 well ahead of her opponents in money raised, though challenger Ward 10 Alderman Justin Elicker FES ’10 SOM ’10 collected donations from more individuals and saw a higher proportion of his funds come from within New Haven.

The filings, which cover donations to the campaigns in July and August, indicate that Harp raised $176,082 in the two-month period. Henry Fernandez, who placed second in the fundraising race, brought in $86,305, while Elicker and Kermit Carolina raised $29,254 and $5,260, respectively. With the July and August contributions, Harp’s fundraising total now stands at $287,423. Following Harp is Fernandez with $265,361, Elicker with $157,193 and Carolina with $38,695. The totals for Elicker and Carolina do not include money the candidates received from the Democracy Fund, a public financing program, in July and August.

Harp’s campaign — which has received the backing of the city’s Democratic establishment as well as Yale’s politically powerful unions — has sought to paint her increased fundraising as part of the inevitability of Harp’s candidacy.

“It’s an indication of the growing support and momentum of the campaign,” Harp campaign spokesman Patrick Scully said. “It gives us the ability to go above and beyond what we would have been able to do as far as getting all of our message out.”

Despite far outraising her opponents, Harp also led the field in spending. Having emptied $216,253 from campaign coffers during the reporting period — over $40,000 more than she took in — the state senator is left without a deep war chest ahead of the general election.

Scully said that Harp’s rapid expenditures are a function of her late entry into the race — Harp announced her candidacy in April, whereas Elicker joined the race in January. Harp’s significant campaign spending allowed her to catch up in educating New Haven residents about her platform, he said.

Scully also pointed to his candidate’s late entry as the cause of another significant difference in fundraising between the candidates: the Democracy Fund. Both Harp and Fernandez opted out of the program, whereas Elicker and Carolina, whose fundraising totals are significantly lower, chose to participate.

“She wouldn’t have been as competitive as she is with the Democracy Fund,” Scully said.

The fund, established in 2007, delivers city funds to qualifying New Haven mayoral candidates, provided they do not accept contributions larger than $370 or contributions from political committees or business entities. Candidates are given a one-time grant of $19,000 and other funds of up to $125,000, which are rewarded through a system that doubles the first $25 of donations from $10 to $25 and provides $50 for contributions between $25 and $370.

Harp has expanded her fiscal base well beyond New Haven, reflecting her connections formed across Connecticut in her time as a state legislator. According to the most recent filings, 700 individuals donated to the Harp campaign during the filing period. Of those, only 288, or 41 percent, live in New Haven, although 680, or 97 percent, reside in Connecticut. Beyond the location of her donors, Harp’s choice to forgo the Fund has also allowed her campaign to take contributions of more than $370, bringing her average contribution to $217. Sixty-eight people donated $1,000, the maximum allowable donation from an individual, during the reporting period.

Elicker has made Harp’s use of large contributions and money from beyond the city a key point in his campaign pitch. With 850 individual contributions and 79 percent of his total funding coming from inside the city, the Ward 10 alderman has consistently argued that the differences in fundraising tactics suggest differences in how the candidates will govern. The average donation to Elicker’s campaign was $80 in July and August; among those who gave the maximum donation of $370 to Elicker is psychology professor Paul Bloom.

Fernandez, who did not participate in the Democracy Fund, had the lowest proportion of donors from inside New Haven, less than a quarter of the 269 who donated. He also had the highest average donation, at $321. Forty-five of those donations were of $1,000.

“Unfortunately, we knew we would have to compete with Sen. Harp, an establishment candidate who would raise money from special interests, lobbyists and people with business before the Appropriations Committee and the State Legislature, which she controls,” Fernandez’s Communications Manager Danielle Filson said. “We needed to match Sen. Harp dollar for dollar, and the Democracy Fund would not have allowed us to do that.”

Meanwhile, Hillhouse High School Principal Kermit Carolina lagged far behind his opponents with just over $5,000 raised, bringing his total to $38,695, not including Democracy Fund money. Although his fundraising totals were significantly smaller than the others, Carolina maintained the highest proportion of Elm City residents in his donor rolls: nearly 97 percent. The average contribution to his campaign, $35, was also the lowest of any candidate.

“Not only are more than 90 percent of our contributors New Haven residents, but the vast majority of our donors have given us relatively small amounts,” the campaign said in a statement released late Tuesday night. “A person’s ability to impact the city’s leader should not be correlative with the amount of money a person can raise or donate.”

In addition to receiving more contributions from individuals outside New Haven, Harp’s decision not to use the Democracy Fund has provided her the freedom to take contributions from political action committees and businesses, from which she took 12.5 percent of her fundraising total in July and August.

The groups included several unions — Central CT Carpenters Union, Carpenters Local 43, Sheet Metal Workers Local, CT Council of Police Unions and Yale’s Local 34 and 35 — many of which have endorsed Harp. In addition, Democratic Voices for Change, Realtor’s PAC and Prosperity for Connecticut, among other organizations, donated. Washington, D.C.-based polling firm Thirty-Ninth Street Strategies, which gave $2,500, contributed more than any other organization.

Unlike Harp, Fernandez did not make significant use of PACs or businesses. Meanwhile, Elicker, who claims that internal polling conducted by his campaign shows that the race is between himself and Harp, frequently takes aim at the state senator’s decision to take contributions from PACs and businesses.

“The fact that Toni raised so much money from PACs and special interest groups,” Elicker said, “is exactly what is wrong about politics in New Haven.”

In response, Scully said that the campaign was “proud of where the money comes from,” adding that the contributions from beyond New Haven were indicative of the candidate’s track record in the State Legislature.

As of Aug. 23, the Democracy Fund distributed $102,660 to Elicker, Carolina and former challenger Gary Holder-Winfield, the three candidates who opted into the program.

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