With only two weeks until the election, Mayor John DeStefano Jr. has raised more than 15 times as much for the mayoral race as his competitor.
DeStefano’s fundraising vastly overshadowed that of challenger Jeffrey Kerekes, as the incumbent reported two weeks ago that he had raised an aggregate $572,497.89 through the end of September. This heavily trumps the $33,585.86 that Kerekes reported on his finance report through Oct. 6.
DeStefano campaign manager Danny Kedem said DeStefano had received funding both from individuals and groups across the city, further indicative of his “wide-ranging scope of support.” Kerekes, on the other hand, said he received most of his funding, about $23,000, from the Democracy Fund, a pilot program started in 2007 to give challengers with lower name recognition a chance in elections by providing financial assistance to nonincumbents and limiting the influence of powerful special interests.
The fund uses public funds to match any campaign fundraising up to $125,000 and offers grants of $17,000 in both the primary and the general election. In order to qualify, participating candidates must raise 200 individual contributions of at least $10 and cannot accept donations from political action committees, “businesses entities,” or more than $340 from individuals or committees.
DeStefano himself championed the creation of the Fund, writing in a 2005 Hartford Courant editorial that “elections can only be truly fair when any qualified candidate, no matter the size of his or her war chest, can run for office; when the citizens, not just the wealthy, can meaningfully contribute to a campaign; and when candidates spend time debating the issues, not fund-raising.” But, after receiving money from the Fund during the 2007 and 2009 elections, DeStefano chose to opt out of the Fund this year, which allows him to accept higher contributions with looser limitations on who can contribute to his campaign.
DeStefano opted out of the Fund, Kerem said, with citizens in mind.
“In this economic downturn, the mayor thought that using public tax dollars to fund his campaign was not the best means of utilizing people’s hard-earned money,” Kerem said.
Kerekes, though, has a different take on the mayor’s decision. The mayor was “all for” the Fund as long as he didn’t have a real challenger in the election, he said, but DeStefano disregarded the Fund this year due to the threat posed by Kerekes’ candidacy.
“Before he had a challenger it was a great program, and then when he actually has to run a real race then it was no longer adequate,” Kerekes said.
He added that the mayor’s decision also came after he “violated the letter and character of the law” in 2009. Then, DeStefano’s campaign incurred a fine of $500 for late filing and moved cash into a political action committee to support aldermanic candidates, a move that drew criticisms from supporters of the Fund.
Kedem, though, is optimistic about DeStefano’s chances in the general election given his performance against Kerekes in the primary election.
“We twice outspent [Kerekes], but we also got all the votes,” Kerem said. “We’re proud of the fact that there was an outpouring of support for the mayor financially.”
Kerekes spent $33,585.86 on the primary, which translates to less than $12 spent for each of the 2,895 votes he received. This statistic is striking when compared to the money spent by DeStefano — $494,017.33 on his primary campaign, Kedem said — which is over $86 each for his 5,716 votes in the primary.
Kerekes said this is a good sign for his campaign.
“It shows me that if you [are running against] a record like DeStefano’s you don’t need a lot of money to run a successful campaign,” Kerekes said, adding that, with no paid staff, he’s running a grassroots campaign with “nothing close” to the resources that DeStefano has.
On the other hand, Kedem said that both the fundraising for DeStefano’s campaign and the number of votes he received in the primary election — almost double the number of votes for Kerekes — is evidence of “strong support from across the community.” Also running in the primary were Clifton Graves and Tony Dawson, who received 2,255 and 2,032 votes, respectively.
The general election will take place on Nov. 8.