Although they’re not generally thought of as high-profile races, candidates for Johnson County Commission have been raising a robust amount of money as the November election approaches.
Some of the hottest races with well-known challengers show available cash amounts in the $20,000 to $25,000 range, with challengers raising it all since filing this past spring. In other races – most notably the one for commission chairman – there’s a huge disparity between incumbent and challenger.
A look at campaign finance reports on file with the Johnson County Election Commission shows most candidates with over $15,000 available to spend as of the most recent filing deadline at the end of July. Most had not spent nearly that much by the same date.
Biggest amounts on hand before expenses
Incumbent Commissioner Michael Ashcraft had the largest campaign bankbook for that filing period by far, with $38,526 on hand before expenses were figured in. He spent $7,683 during that period.
Three other candidates reported available cash above $24,000 — Commission Chairman Ed Eilert with $24,404, Roeland Park City Council member Becky Fast, with $24,045 and Janeé Hanzlick, former director of a domestic violence agency with $24,699. Fast challenges first district Commissioner Ron Shaffer and Hanzlick is competing for fourth district Commissioner Jason Osterhaus’s seat.
Expenses ate into those totals, though. Fast reported $5,349 in expenditures and Hanzlick, $6,642. Eilert reported spending $25 during that period.
Fastest money raisers
Incumbents often start with a built-in advantage, since they can carry cash over from previous years. Michael Ashcraft, for instance, had about $8,300 on hand in January, before filing for the current race. He raised another $20,753 in the interim, coming into the latest period with about $28,000 on hand.
That said, some challengers have been quick out of the gates to raise cash. Fast started the period at zero for cash on hand, raising the entire $24,045 plus $2,791 in in-kind contributions. Similarly Hanzlick went from zero to $24,699 during that period, with an additional $933 in-kind.
Widest gulfs between candidates
The biggest chasm in money raising is in the commission chairman race. The chairman’s spot is a county-wide vote, and normally a top money raiser. This year, Eilert is challenged by a political newcomer, Trinette Waldrup of Olathe. Waldrup reports raising only about $511, with $311 of that in in-kind contributions. On another page, she lists $1,011 in expenses.
The race between Ashcraft and Olathe school board member LeEtta Felter also is financially tipped far in favor of Ashcraft. Felter reported $5,126 in available cash before expenses, with an additional $250 of in-kind contributions.
But in the two other races, challengers have outraised the incumbents. Hanzlick raised almost $24,700 in less time than it took incumbent Osterhaus to raise $17,300. And Fast has outraised Shaffer by about $8,200.
Where they got their money
The contributor list varied widely from one candidate to the next. Some put substantial amounts of their own money into the campaign. Shaffer reported $15,000 – most of his war chest – in loans from himself. His opponent, Becky Fast, gave herself $5,000 and another $1,000 came from people with the same surname. However, much of her contribution list is from smaller donors. She listed about 100 contributors, with many giving $100 or less.
Likewise Hanzlick reported more than 100 contributions as did Osterhaus and Ashcraft.
Political action committees, businesses and other groups have been active givers to a small degree. Campaign reporting rules say donations of over $150 must list the occupation of the giver.
Among Eilert’s contributors were several involved in real estate development or construction. Lawyers from the Polsinelli firm made the list, as did Heaven Investments, Polo Fields OP LLC, Burns and McDonnell and Phelps Engineering. Eilert also received $500 from the Dr. Pepper Snapple PAC, which bills itself online as being primarily concerned with taxation, environmental regulations and labor issues.
Several of the Osterhaus’s individual donors were listed as being in the financial industry. Hanzlick reported $125 from Yes We Kansas PAC and $100 from the Greater Kansas City Women’s Political Caucus; and Felter listed a couple of real estate agents and law firm Lathrop Gage on her form. Fast also listed a few attorneys as well as the Greater Kansas City Women’s Political Caucus.
Ashcraft also listed a few individuals involved in real estate or development, as well as $100 from the NW JOCO Republican PAC.
As of the late July filing, expenses had not come close to the amount raised. But that may have already changed as candidates have printed cards and planted yard signs this fall. Expenditures for all candidates were what might be expected – printing, web design, parade candy, etc.
The amount of money going into commission races has fluctuated with the race. Eilert, for example, reported raising much more for the same time period in 2014 and 2010. In 2014, Eilert raised about $31,000. That was the year he was challenged by conservative Patricia Lightner and Commissioner Ed Peterson. He raised $36,000 for his first race for chairman in 2010.
Ashcraft reported far less available cash in the July filing of 2014, but then he was unopposed. He had about $13,000 in his coffers that time around, And Osterhaus also had less back then, with about $12,500 as he faced off with Overland Park City Council member Curt Skoog.