Finances show very different merger campaigns

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AUBURN — The latest finance reports from the competing Lewiston-Auburn merger campaigns depict a stark difference in fundraising, spending and campaign tactics.

The filings paint a picture of a well-financed and professional One LA campaign, which has spent thousands on advertising and consulting, against the anti-merger Coalition Opposed to Lewiston-Auburn Consolidation that has spent almost all of its limited funds on “No Merger” lawn signs.

In the latest quarterly filing due Oct. 5, COLAC reported cash contributions of $2,682.

The quarter represents from July 1 through Sept. 30, the period when both campaigns were ramping up. Lawn signs began appearing, and public forums and debates were hosted. Both cities also placed the referendum on the Nov. 7 ballot and held hearings. 

For the same period, One LA reported cash contributions of $79,925, including hefty amounts from a few contributors.

Gene Geiger, chairman of the Joint Charter Commission and CEO of Geiger Corp., gave separate donations of $20,000 and $10,000, while Tom Platz, CEO of architectural firm Platz Associates, contributed $20,000.

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Others involved in the pro-merger campaign have also contributed considerable funds, including $15,000 from One LA Co-chairman Carl Sheline and $2,500 from Charter Commission member Chip Morrison. 

In comparison, one of the largest single donations to the COLAC campaign has come from campaign Chairman Jim Howaniec at $1,000. 

Geiger said Wednesday that his financial support of One LA is due to his deep belief in the consolidation initiative.

“Yes, I gave a lot of money to the campaign group. I did so because I deeply believe in the importance and value of merging the two cities,” he said in an email. “I have always tried to give back to my hometown – to causes and organizations to make this a better place. To me, this is the same. I want to help LA be all it can be.” 

The One LA camp also outspent COLAC during the last quarter, $46,339 to $1,292.

The reports highlight the considerable differences between how the campaigns are being run. Those opposed to the merger have attempted to frame the pro-merger campaign as a push from a few high-powered business leaders, while calling COLAC a grassroots campaign. However, there hasn’t been an outpouring of donations to the anti-merger side from residents, either. Most of the donations made to COLAC have been from a few members of the campaign. 

One LA has been actively pushing for support through email campaigns and other means, while COLAC has not. 

Two weeks ago, the Lewiston Auburn Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce announced its support for the merger, which led to an immediate response from merger opponents. The One LA campaign had recently become a member of the chamber, and had purchased its mailing list, which shows up in the campaign finance reports. 

In response to a list of questions from Auburn Mayor Jonathan LaBonte following the announcement, L-A Metro Chamber CEO Beckie Conrad said she informed COLAC when One LA became a member, and asked the group to join in order to have both campaigns represented.

“I was not given a reason why they have not joined to benefit from chamber membership,” she said. 

With more funding, One LA has used its resources for advertising and polling services from Rinck Advertising, as well as thousands for consulting services. They also have invested in office space, a social media presence and in-campaign staffers.

“It’s a little bit disconcerting to think that they are spending so much on this campaign,” Howaniec said Wednesday. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we end up getting outspent 100-1 in this campaign (including the amounts spent by the Joint Charter Commission), which I find a little disturbing.” 

In response to questions Wednesday about the vastly different financing of the campaigns, Geiger said One LA has needed the resources to communicate new ideas while battling COLAC’s campaign tactics. 

“Change is difficult for many, and playing to people’s fears of change is an inexpensive and time-honored political technique,” he said, referring to COLAC. “Consequently, the campaign has had to assemble significant resources to explain why change is essential if we are going to make LA the city where our children and their children will choose to live.” 

On the opposing side, COLAC has spent the majority of its contributions on signs. It has received many smaller donations and in-kind services from many of the people closely involved in the campaign: Howaniec, Lewiston Finance Committee Chairman Robert Reed, and Auburn City Councilors Bob Stone and Leroy Walker. 

Howaniec, a well-known attorney, also contributed $300 for legal services at one point. When asked about his $1,000 campaign contribution, he said it was used for the campaign to do an initial purchase of lawn signs, after they didn’t have enough funds.

A former mayor of Lewiston, Howaniec added he feels strongly about the issue.

“I had completely retired from politics for the past 25 years, but I felt this issue was so critical that we needed to put up some level of an organized opposition,” he said. 

The next campaign finance reports are due Friday, Oct. 27, or 11 days before the Nov. 7 election. 

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Campaign finances, July 1 – Sept. 30:

OneLA

Cash contributions: $79,925

Expenditures: $46,339

Coalition Opposed to Lewiston-Auburn Consolidation

Cash contributions: $2,682

Expenditures: $1,292

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