Numbers speak louder than words 

Spending money on power

Partisan contributors belie council races' supposed neutrality

If campaign contribution reports filed by Missoula City Council candidates are any indication, the new nonpartisan ballot scheme has done little to diffuse the competition between traditionally conservative and liberal interests.

Last week, all candidates were required to file updated reports with the Missoula County Election Office. The lists of contributions to city council candidates reveal some interesting and rather consistent patterns.

A core group of developers and business interests, for example, have lined up behind five of the candidates with open checkbooks. At the same time, a slightly smaller core of nonprofit organizers, artists, teachers, professors and New Party members have thrown their support -- and money -- to the three more liberal candidates.

In many ways, the battle for the Rattlesnake's vacant Ward 1 seat is typical of the of the entire race. The average campaign wad thus far in the race is $2,221. The two Ward 1 contenders, Carolyn Overman and Dave Harmon, have raised the most dough: $3,990 and $2,544, respectively. The majority of Overman's contributions -- $2,800 -- can be tied directly to business owners, building contractors, developers, real estate brokers and banking interests.

Harmon has received money from a somewhat diverse group of contributors, including a logger and a poet. Several of Harmon's contributors are New Party activists, but his list also includes artists, health care professionals, professors from the University of Montana, teachers employed by Missoula County, and a few nonprofit organizers.

In the Northside's Ward 2 race, current Missoula Council member Linda Tracy has raised $1,760, while her opponent, Jamie Carpenter, has $2,126. A similar pattern of contributions plays itself out in this contest. Business and development interests are the backbone of support for Carpenter; New Party members, nonprofit organizers, three current council members (Scott Morgan, Andy Sponseller and Lois Herbig) and contributors of less than $35 (which don't have to be listed with the elections office), are Tracy's core financial supporters.

Ward 3 incumbent, Lou Ann Crowley, has raised $2,475 toward her campaign for the university neighborhood seat. Her challenger, Bob Luceno, has collected $2,470. Business and development interests are again weighing in on Luceno's side. Crowley's report lists such notables as former Missoula County Commissioner candidate Roger Bergmeier, current Commissioner Michael Kennedy, Missoula City Council member Chris Gingerelli, and state Sen. Vivian Brooke.

The Ward 4 South Hills race is a little more lopsided, with Paula Hofmann counting $2,037 in contributions, and Myrt Charney, listing $1,461 in donations. The development and business interests have thrown their support to Charney, funding nearly two-thirds of his campaign. Almost $1,000 comes from donors listed as contractors, developers, real estate brokers or self-employed business people. Hofmann, on the other hand, counts about half of her total campaign funds to date -- $1,037 -- as coming from contributions of under $35.

Jack Reidy, who is a self-described conservative Democrat, is running unopposed for reelection in Ward 5. He has filed a report with the election office saying that he expects to raise less than $500.

City Council President Craig Sweet has collected $1,506 for his reelection bid to represent the south-central neighborhood. His opponent, Tracey Turek, has raised $1,840. A New Party member, Sweet has captured many of the same supporters as Dave Harmon in Ward 1, while the development and business interests have come down squarely behind Turek.

The list of development and business interests includes such names as Bitterroot Motors owner Kathy Ogren, Mansion Heights developer John Felton, Mark Fisher of Waterford Construction, and Maloney Ranch developer Pat McCarthy. Ogren and Felton have each contributed a total of $500 to various campaigns making them the two largest individual contributors thus far in the entire elections. Fisher gave away $400 and McCarthy $300.

There was also an organized effort to donate lumber to the campaigns of Overman, Carpenter, Luceno, Charney and Turek. Nep Lynch, the owner of Intermountain Lumber, Rick Evans of Premier Homes and Kelly Murphy, store manager of United Building Centers each donated $66 worth of lumber for campaign signs to all five of those candidates.

On the other side of the political arena, all three of the New Party candidates -- Harmon, Sweet and Tracy -- are being outspent by their rivals. There is, however, a consistent pattern of contributors to their campaigns as well. Ron Erickson, chair of the Open Space Advisory Committee, and his wife, artist Nancy Erickson, gave a total of $100 to Harmon, $50 to Tracy and threw a fund-raiser for Sweet bringing in $368. Council member Andy Sponseller chipped in $100 to each New Party candidate's campaign. A University of Montana professor and New Party member, Bill Chaloupka, contributed $50 each to the three candidates. And New Party leader Peter Talbot gave each of three candidates $50 as well.

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