KEVIN LEININGER: Campaign cash is flowing, and business leaders are a big reason why

Republican mayoral candidates Tim Smith, left, and John Crawford have raised a lot of campaign money so far but have had to spend a lot, too. Mayor Tom Henry hasn't, but will. (Courtesy photo)
Rachel Lott
Jason Arp
Kevin Leininger

Money alone doesn’t win elections, but the campaign-finance reports filed this week nevertheless offered some intriguing insights into which contests in the May 7 primaries will be the most hotly contested — and the names of the individuals and groups most interested in influencing the outcomes. Political action committees have also made major contributions in two contests, including a donation unusually large by City Council standards.

The Fort Wayne mayor’s race has received the most attention, of course, and for good reason. The Republican battle between City Council President John Crawford and medical insurance executive Tim Smith for the right to challenge three-term incumbent Democrat Tom Henry in November is expected to be the most expensive primary in history, and the Republican candidates’ recent debate about the increasingly negative tone of the contest indicates the money being spent on ads is producing attention if not support.

In the 2019 pre-primary reports due Monday, Smith listed $499,412 in contributions and cash on hand of about $153,000 after spending $346,450 — an indication his campaign has moved into high gear after what many observers considered a slow start. The campaign paid Strategic Media Placement of Delaware more than $205,000, with the Indianapolis marketing firm Prosper Group getting $67,150.

Smith’s major donations during the period include $5,000 from Ric Runestad, a GOP activist and financial services consultant; $1,000 from Timothy Kenesey, CEO of Smith’s employer, MedPro; and $10,000 from Ambassador Enterprises of Fort Wayne, which was founded by Daryle Doden in 2006 after he sold Ambassador Steel. His son, former Greater Fort Wayne Inc. CEO Eric Doden, was formerly director of investments for Ambassador.

But Smith also received $86,500 from the Northeast Indiana PAC for Better Government, which lists contributions of $7,500 from Parkview Health CEO Mike Packnett, $5,000 from Ideal Suburban Homes of Decatur, which is headed by Kevan Biggs, one of Electric Works’ developers, and $14,000 from Fred Merritt, a Carmel businessman and member of the Indiana Economic Development Corp. Eric Doden headed before moving to GFW Inc. The PAC says its mission is to “promote business issues and better cooperation among government entities and among elected officials in the Allen County Area.”

As for Crawford, he listed $507,461 in receipts and cash on hand of $316,160 after spending $191,300. Crawford also listed debts owed of $240,000. Crawford, a physician, has been a major contributor to his campaign, along with family members, and he appears to owe money mostly to himself. The Asher Agency, a local marketing group, was paid $46,000 during the period.

Financially speaking, at least, the most interesting City Council race seems to be in the 4th District, where incumbent Republican Jason Arp, a staunch opponent of government business subsidies, is being challenged by Rachel Lott, who formerly worked for Eric Doden at GFW. Arp lists $17,051 in contributions and expenses of nearly $9,000, but Lott bested him in both areas, reporting contributions of $22,599 and expenses of about $11,300.

Arp received $5,000 from local businessman and developer Bruce Dye, but Lott listed $5,000 from Sweetwater Sound founder Chuck Surack, $2,500 from businessman Scott Glaze and wife Melissa and $12,500 from the recently formed “Excellent Government for Indiana PAC,” which received $5,000 from Daryle Doden, $500 from Eric Doden, $4,000 from WTL Properties of Fort Wayne (contractor Larry Weigand is listed as agent) and $5,000 from Ambassador Enterprises.

The Democratic race in the 4th District has also attracted support, where Patti Hays, CEO of the AWS Foundation, has garnered $18,271 in contributions (about $5,000 of it from herself) compared to $305 for Jorge Fernandez.

In the at-large council races, Nathan Hartman’s contributions of $18,166 topped the list, followed by incumbent Tom Freistroffer ($14,530), Joe Townsend ($8,745), and incumbent Michael Barranda ($4,131). Eric Tippmann, who is currently Perry Township Trustee, did not file a report.

Among Democratic at-large candidates, current 6th District Councilman Glynn Hines topped the contribution list with $12,888, followed by $6,202 for Michelle Chambers, $1,624 for Steve Corona and $720 for MaryClare Akers. Curtis Nash listed no contributions.

In the 3rd District, incumbent Republican Tom Didier reported contributions of $8,890 compared to $4,320 for opponent Mike Thomas. Democrat Palermo Galindo reported contributions of $2,391; John Henry reported $450. In the 6th District, which has no Republican candidate, current County Councilman Sharon Tucker had contributions of $20,167; opponents Hakim Muhammad and Tom Cook did not file reports.

Meanwhile, Smith and Crawford know this better than anybody else: Without a credible primary challenger, Tom Henry spent just $58,400 so far this year — leaving him to face his eventual Republican opponent with more than $527,000 in cash already on hand, and plenty more still to come before November rolls around.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Kevin Leininger at kleininger@news-sentinel.com or call him at 461-8355.

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