The struggles of funding a Republican mayoral bid
On Tuesday night, Republican mayoral nominee Melissa Murray Bailey will hold a fundraiser in Roxborough. The Facebook event page has over 40 confirmed attendees, but even with a gracious turnout at the suggested donation levels — between $125 and $1,000 per person — she will not likely raise enough money to run a competitive television ad campaign in time for November’s general election.
Bailey had just under $10,000 cash on hand in June, according to campaign finance reports. Meanwhile, her Democratic opponent Jim Kenney raised over $1.8 million before the May 2015 primary election, and doled out all but $100,000 by the time he secured his landslide victory. Even with that leftover sum, he leads Bailey by a long shot. Kenney also has two generous Political Action Committees (PACs) that back him. They raised and spent around $3 million to help his campaign during the primary season, most of which came from labor unions.
Bailey has no such special interest support, and raising money on the ground hasn’t been easy.
The numbers work against her. While there are around 115,000 registered Republicans in the city, Democrats outnumber them eight to one. Granted, some Philly Republicans manage do well for themselves. Martina White raised around $80,000 and secured the 170th House District seat by 14 points in a March special election. But the majority of Republican candidates like Bailey face an uphill battle.
“We help as much as we can,” said Joe DeFelice, executive director of the Philadelphia Republican Party. “But frankly, it’s something that bogs down our candidates...Money is the mother’s milk of politics. Without it, you can’t live. We’re trying to get money to our candidates, and it’s not always easy. Sometimes it takes shock value and other things to get in the press.”
Bailey, who was an unknown in Philly politics before February, has succeeded in getting some press coverage. With just 70 days until the general election, she has been working to make herself stand out. She took a controversial stance on immigration enforcement in Philadelphia. She also regularly criticizes Kenney for everything from debate evasion to “representing the business-as-usual political machine.”
Bailey isn’t the only one to blame the mainstream media for its early coronation of Kenney. The tag “presumptive mayor” has become something of his byline, and Bailey says that this kind of predetermination affects how she can appeal to donors.
“The hardest thing is getting over the media narrative when you’re talking to potential fundraisers,” Bailey told AL DÍA. “On one end of the spectrum, the media says they want a competitive race and open dialogue, but on the other end they’re saying it’s already decided, which makes fundraising quite challenging....You try to talk to people and they say ‘well, but, everybody is saying that this is the outcome already and the election has already been decided,’ so obviously people want to make sure that they’re making a smart investment.”
There are other reservations, too. Bailey says she is thanked daily for sticking her neck out and running for the mayor's office against great odds. But she says that due to the city’s history of corruption and backroom deals, some would-be donors tell her they are troubled by the idea of giving to the underdog.
“I’ve been in meeting with people when they say, ‘I really like what you stand for, I think you could be very good for the city. But in the case that you don’t win, I can’t be seen on your campaign finance report because there will be backlash for me or my business or my community.’” Bailey said.
If it were just one or two individuals who expressed this concern, Bailey said she wouldn’t have thought anything of it. But she heard it so often it became a concern. So what does that say about the donors who do come out to back Bailey’s bid?
“The people who are contributing to me, and who I think will continue contributing to me, know me really well,” she said. “Whether they know me personally or whether they’ve been following my campaign, they know what I stand for — ethical decisions, transparency, and being really respectful of the taxpayer dollars. They want better services, a better Philadelphia, better education.”
Bailey has received a few generous contributions from individual donors, but doesn’t feel they should raise any undue suspicion. Stewart Greenleaf Jr., a lawyer in Blue Bell, Pa., who donated $1,000 to Bailey’s campaign, is a long-time friend of the family. Her campaign finance reports also show family members outside the city, as well as Bailey herself, making similar contributions.
Her biggest donor is Andrew Terhune, a senior business analyst for the Toll Brothers. Bailey didn’t know Terhune personally at the time he made the maximum $2,900 contribution to her campaign after hearing her speak at an Republican party event in April. Despite Terhune’s stake in the luxury development world — and a few posts on his public Facebook page critical of subjects like Islam and the SCOTUS same-sex marriage ruling — Bailey says that donations to her campaign come without political baggage attached.
“That’s probably why special interests groups aren’t interested in supporting me, because they know that I can’t be compromised,” Bailey said.
She remains optimistic about Tuesday’s fundraiser.
Bailey, who was registered a Democrat until January, 2015, says she grew disenchanted with the party, and that she sees others like her leaving for the Republican party. Republican ward leaders rallied behind her in March and she ran uncontested in the May primary.