Fundraising off to a slow start in Atlanta mayor’s race

City Council President Felicia Moore (left) is running against incumbent Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms.

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

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City Council President Felicia Moore (left) is running against incumbent Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms.

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

The 2021 Atlanta mayor’s race is off to a relatively inexpensive start, compared to the record-setting amounts of cash hauled in and spent by a dozen candidates in the 2017 race.

Expect that to change soon, now that Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ reelection bid is being challenged by City Council President Felicia Moore.

Bottoms starts her campaign for a second term in office with just over $60,000 in the bank. Moore, who ran a citywide race for the council presidency in 2017, has about $40,000 on hand. Both of those figures are revealed in new campaign finance disclosures filed at the end of January.

In 2017, six candidates each raised more than $1 million, including donations and personal loans to their campaigns. Bottoms was among that group, raising a total of $2.5 million in a campaign that ended with a runoff victory over Mary Norwood.

In all, more than $10 million was raised in the last mayoral campaign.

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Experts say the slow start to fundraising this time is likely a result of the whirlwind campaign season Georgia just endured. Months of campaigning and fundraising for the presidential election and two closely watched Senate runoffs put the mayor’s race on the backburner.

Potential challengers were also watching throughout the fall to see if Bottoms would be selected as Joe Biden’s running mate or a member of his Cabinet.

“Most mayoral races would have started probably in September or October,” Moore said. “I believe because people were kind of waiting to see what the mayor’s next move was ... that’s kind of why we have a shorter runway to November.”

Bottoms declined an interview request for this story.

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Atlanta City Hall. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM

Atlanta City Hall. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM

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Atlanta City Hall. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM

One sign of the sluggish start? A City Council member running for reelection, Howard Shook, has more cash on hand than both Moore and Bottoms. And Council candidate Jason Dozier raised about as much money last month as both mayoral candidates combined.

The campaigns are confident they will be able to grow their war chests. Bottoms appears to be especially well-positioned, given her national profile, close relationship with President Biden and previous success as a fundraiser, experts said.

While Bottoms starts her campaign $1.2 million behind where Mayor Kasim Reed was at this point in his 2013 reelection bid, Moore is facing the challenge of fundraising against a sitting mayor with soaring name recognition who was recently appointed by Biden to be a vice chair of the Democratic National Committee.

“Those networks can open up her fundraising beyond the city, to deep pockets around the country,” said Brian Robinson, a Republican political strategist. “If she chose to do that ... it’ll be an advantage that no one else in the race has.”

Bottoms plans to lean on those national connections. Her campaign is bringing on Julianna Smoot, the national finance director for Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign and a former White House social secretary, as national fundraising consultant for the campaign.

Bottoms and Moore will both have the added challenge of raising funds in a campaign season that looks different in the age of COVID. The campaigns are likely to hold more virtual fundraisers rather than in-person dinners or large rallies.

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Atlanta City Council President Felicia Moore (left) announced Thursday, Jan. 28, she is challenging Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms in the 2021 mayoral race. (AJC file photos)

Credit: AJC file photos

Atlanta City Council President Felicia Moore (left) announced Thursday, Jan. 28, she is challenging Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms in the 2021 mayoral race. (AJC file photos)

Credit: AJC file photos

caption arrowCaption
Atlanta City Council President Felicia Moore (left) announced Thursday, Jan. 28, she is challenging Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms in the 2021 mayoral race. (AJC file photos)

Credit: AJC file photos

Credit: AJC file photos

Big money raised in 2017

The cash started flying almost immediately in the 2017 mayoral race.

Ceasar Mitchell, who at the time was council president, and former Atlanta chief operating officer Peter Aman had both raised over $1 million by the end of January 2017. And several other candidates had six figures in the bank.

At that point in the race, Bottoms’ campaign had amassed $375,000.

Since last July, Bottoms’ campaign has received about $11,000 in donations, according to campaign finance filings. She has spent over $95,000, with expenses including airfare, campaign finance consulting and postage. The campaign paid $12,500 for consulting to Rashad Taylor, who also serves as senior advisor to the mayor at City Hall.

Last month, the Bottoms’ campaign paid a fine of $37,000 to the state ethics commission for campaign finance violations during the 2017 mayor’s race, and paid $10,000 in legal fees to the Robbins Firm, which represented the campaign in the inquiry, records show.

Some have called Bottoms’ current fundraising lackluster.

“As an incumbent, I would want to have seven figures at this point,” Robinson said, adding that having a lot of money in the bank is helpful in warding off possible challengers.

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In 2017, Moore raised more than $360,000 to become Council president, an election she won in a runoff. After announcing her campaign for mayor in late January, she raised over $45,000, records show. She paid $3,500 to a firm run by Kentucky-based consultant LA Harris to help with fundraising.

Moore also has nearly $30,000 from her campaign for council president. But state law does not allow a candidate to raise money for one office and then transfer the money to a campaign for another office. One option: Moore could refund donors to her council president campaign and ask them to re-gift it to her mayoral campaign.

“Right now I’m concentrating on my support base, and then we’ll go from there,” Moore said. “I’m certainly going to tap into any and everyone who is looking for a change for the better.”

But she could run into difficulties fundraising against an incumbent mayor.

“If you’re giving to Felicia Moore, that means you are giving against the current mayor, and that’s a severe handicap,” said Nick Juliano, a Democratic strategist and consultant who has worked on campaigns in Atlanta and is supporting Bottoms’ reelection bid.

Moore said she understood that when she jumped in the race: “I’m used to going up the rough side of the mountain.”

The slow start for both candidates may also be due to circumstances in the presidential race, experts say.

Over the summer and into the fall, Bottoms was being considered as a possible Biden running mate, then was offered a spot in the the new administration’s cabinet. It also wasn’t clear whether any serious mayoral challengers would emerge as her national profile soared.

Bottoms’ only reported donation in January was from Cedric Richmond, a former U.S. Congressman who now serves as Biden’s senior advisor. But the money will come when the mayor starts focusing on fundraising, experts said.

“She will have the capability to fundraise whatever she needs to execute a good campaign,” Juliano said. “It’s really only now that she’s going to need to kick that fundraising drive into high gear.”

That may have started this week.

“The race for Atlanta Mayor is on, but I cannot do it alone,” Bottoms wrote in a tweet Monday, which included a link to her campaign’s fundraising page. “Please join me in keeping Atlanta moving forward, leaving no one behind.”

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