No matter what position a candidate is running for, a well-financed incumbent can be hard to beat.
Presently five candidates are making an attempt to topple Mayor Lee Brown from the head seat in Houston. Two of those candidates, Orlando Sanchez and Chris Bell, are serious contenders. They are Brown’s biggest threat since the 1997 election when he defeated Rob Mosbacher in a December run-off.
In a September poll, Brown leads in the polls with 36 percent of voters polled willing to cast their vote in his favor; Sanchez had 19 percent, Bell 15 percent. When this poll was conducted the rest of the voters were still undecided. Brown needs at least 50 percent of the vote to avoid a run-off election in December.
Sanchez is getting a great deal of his support from the Republican National Committee as well as Houston Republicans. He raised $989,000 for his campaign. Bell has raised $1.07 million for his campaign.
Brown has raised more than $3 million for his campaign. He has a list of contributors who gave the maximum $5,000 allowed by private citizens and political action committees. The advantage Brown has is that he enjoys support from Houston democrats and unions. He also enjoys more corporate support than the other two candidates.
Campaign finance reports are readily available at the official Houston website, www.cityofhouston.gov, or at City Hall.
Why would private citizens donate so much to a political candidate? Brown has always been friendly to new construction such as light rail and new arenas. Many of his big contributors are private citizens with public interests. A check of names reveals that many of his citizen contributors have a stake in Houston’s perpetual construction programs. The list includes architects, engineers, construction contractors and lawyers.
Current law limits campaign contributions to city candidates to $5,000 from private citizens and PACs and $10,000 from corporations. The laws are weak because a contributor can donate legally by contributing under different names and without having to mention any affiliation to a corporation or PAC. An example would be a firm donating $100,000 using 20 separate $5,000 contributions. Even if laws are broken, campaign contribution violations are class C misdemeanors punishable by a $500 fine.
What financing means for candidates is that the more money a candidate has the more television, radio and newspaper spots that candidate has to campaign. If there is a run-off, the well-financed candidate can sustain the long battle for Houston’s supreme position.