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The most expensive Tacoma mayor’s race in history*

Post by Lewis Kamb / The News Tribune on Nov. 2, 2009 at 1:35 pm |
November 3, 2009 1:59 pm

(*At least according to readily available campaign finance records.)

pdc_logoThe latest campaign contribution filings by Tacoma mayoral candidates Marilyn Strickland and Jim Merritt show that collectively, the candidates have broken the $290,000 mark heading into Election Day.

Specifically, Strickland has garnered $146,237.38 ($118k in cash, $99k spent) to Merritt’s $144,250.96 ($118k cash, $126k spent).

The figures could mean that this is the most expensive Tacoma mayoral race in city history.Money bags

I say “could” because campaign finance records on the Public Disclosure Commission‘s Web site only go back to 2001.  Detailed campaign contribution reports of any race prior to that consist of paper records that are archived by the Olympia-based commission.

With still more reports to be filed, the cumulative totals for Strickland-Merritt in this year’s contest have smashed those for the last competitive mayor’s race in 2001. That year, Bill Baarsma and his opponent, Harold Moss, collectively brought in about $258, ooo ($142k for Baarsma, $116k for Moss).

In a recent conversation I had with Baarsma, he told me the campaign money in this year’s mayor’s race doesn’t surprise him. But Baarsma added the respective figures for either Merritt or Strickland may actually not be the highest collected by an individual Tacoma mayoral candidate.

MerrittBaarsma recalled Karen Vialle raised about $200,000 during her campaign for mayor in 1993 — a contest she lost to Jack Hyde (who, Baarsa estimated, took in only about $80,000).  But when added together, Baarsma said, Merritt and Strickland’s totals probably will surpass the Vialle-Hyde totals.MarilynStricklandLargeWeb

I’ve put in an email and phone call to the PDC, requesting the Vialle-Hyde totals.  I’ll update this post if/when I get them.

UPDATE: Jon Ammons of the PDC writes in an email: “… as we generally only keep `readily available’ records in-office for a period of ten years, you will need to contact the Washington State Archives for older campaign finance reports.”

UPDATE #2: I spoke with former Mayor Karen Vialle on Tuesday, who disputed Baarsma’s recollection of her campaign finance totals in the 1993 race.

Vialle said she raised only about $149,000 against Hyde that year. In fact, Vialle said, she raised more during her campaign for mayor in 1989 — when she brought in roughly $154,000, she said. The same year, her opponent, former City Councilman Tim Strege, raised in the $135,000 to $140,000 range, she said.

“If you add those up and put them in 2009 figures, it probably was the most expensive (mayor’s) race,” she said of the 1989 contest.

She noted that with seven people in the 1989 primary election, both candidates who survived on into the general election were forced to raise more money than usual during the campaign. Still, it was nowhere near the $200,000 mark, Vialle said.

“Not even close,” she said. “Bill has a habit of hyperbole. But even I don’t know where he pulled that number out from.”

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