Economy cuts deeply into campaign spending for Atlanta council

Don't be surprised if you see candidates for the Atlanta City Council rifling their couches for loose change.

The down economy has left most of their campaigns so poor they'd need a cash infusion to be running on shoestring budgets.

Records filed at City Hall show the 31 challengers and six veteran council members seeking seats on the council  spent just $763,352 through Sept. 30. That covers 10 contested races, including four contested citywide -- the presidency and three at-large seats.

Things are so tough that:

- Ten candidates reported no income and no expenses through Sept. 30.

- An additional nine have spent less than $10,000.

- The nine candidates running for District 11  have spent less than $20,000 between them.

- The average candidate in the four citywide races, president included, has spent just $43,000 to reach a city of about 600,000. By comparison, the three major mayoral hopefuls have put out about $850,000 each to reach the same audience. That number is greater than total spending for all 37 council candidates.

Even the costliest race, the presidency, has been deeply affected by the downturn. The two major candidates report spending $242,033 between them. By comparison, Lisa Borders spent $375,000 four years ago even though she faced only token opposition.

"It's challenging," said Councilman Ceasar Mitchell, the top spender by far among all council candidates with $171,050 spent in his bid for the presidency. "We've had to learn to use different muscles."

While  a few candidates may be hoarding cash to spend over the final weeks, records show most simply haven't raised enough money to spark interest across a council district, let alone citywide.

"I really feel sorry for a lot of these folks," said Lee Morris, a two-term council member elected in 1993. "I see some tremendous candidates who aren't going to be able to get their message out because they haven't got the money."

Morris won 16 years ago spending about $25,000 even though he limited donations to $100 apiece.  Four election cycles later, his  war chest then would be the envy of many council candidates.

By far, the most financially challenged race is for the District 11 seat opened by the sudden retirement of 32-year incumbent Jim Maddox. When he dropped out the first day of qualifying, Maddox didn't give any potential successors time to organize campaigns or raise money.

Nine people jumped into the race. But  they've scrambled to raise an average of just $2,200 apiece. The race includes four hopefuls who report being penniless.

The heaviest spending in a district seat, other than the presidency, comes in the crowded District 6 race, where six candidates have put out just under $94,000 so far and a couple were still hoarding some cash for a last-minute push.

Yolanda Adrean, seeking the open District 8 seat, is the highest spender for a district seat at $43,955. She outspent every challenged council incumbent seeking re-election to a district seat.

Still, she's the exception rather than the rule. Only three of nine candidates running for the three at-large posts report spending more than $30,000. And one of those is using a good bit of his own money.

Councilman Howard Shook, who is running unopposed on the Nov. 3 ballot, was shocked at the numbers.

"When you back out the qualifying fees, what you have is literally nothing," Shook said. "That may explain the low turnout people are talking about. Nobody knows who any of those people are."