Big money is being spent in the race for La Plata County commissioner in the days leading up to the November election.
The four candidates seeking two seats were required to submit campaign fundraising and spending figures Tuesday, which reveal tens of thousands of dollars being spent.
Marsha Porter-Norton, a Democrat running for District 2 who was the first candidate to announce a bid for commissioner in February 2019, outpaced all other candidates, raising about $63,700 and spending $49,000.
Porter-Norton said an estimated 400 individual donors have supported her campaign. Records show the La Plata County Democratic Party Central Committee has also provided $5,000 in funding.
“I’m extremely proud of my fundraising and people are getting behind me, for a lot of reasons,” Porter-Norton said. “It’s an election that really matters to a lot of people.”
Her opponent, Jack Turner, who is running as an unaffiliated candidate, has raised about $40,000 and spent $37,500 on his campaign.
Notable contributions include $2,000 from Amos Lee, the general manager of Farmers Fresh Market in Ignacio; $1,250 from John Oakes, a local promoter; and $1,000 from David Peters, who is associated with the LaPlata Liberty Coalition.
In the race for District 3, spending is not as high, state records show.
Former Bayfield Mayor Matt Salka, a Democrat, reported $16,500 in contributions and $11,500 in expenses to date. The La Plata County Democratic Party Central Committee also gave $5,000 to his campaign.
Salka was outraised and outspent by his opponent, Charly Minkler, who is running as an unaffiliated candidate. Minkler has raised about $26,200 and spent about the same in his bid for District 3.
Notable contributions to Minkler’s campaign include $2,000 from Lee with Farmers Fresh Market, $1,000 from Ignacio resident Bob Witt and about $1,900 from Paul and Krii Black. Minkler also spent $7,500 of his own money. He said he does not expect to recoup that investment.
All candidates, according to state records, reported their expenses were for usual campaign expenditures – ads in local media and radio, yard signs and even some consulting.
Typically, a good deal of campaign money is spent on meet and greets or fundraising events. But the pandemic has placed limitations on gatherings and discouraged face-to-face interactions.
As a result, more money is being funneled into things like ads on social media.
“The pandemic definitely meant more costs,” Porter-Norton said. “It is expensive ... more than knocking on doors, which is free.”
Turner agreed. His campaign, along with Minkler’s, had to sink a significant amount of money into just getting on the ballot. In Colorado, unaffiliated candidates must gather a certain number of signatures to qualify for the ballot.
In Turner’s and Minkler’s cases, the effort was made even more difficult because of the pandemic. The two unaffiliated candidates held drive-thru events, which required them to buy supplies and personal protective equipment.
“We had to promote ourselves heavily to get people to sign those petitions,” Turner said.
Minkler said he plans to invest in social media, print mailers and radio.
“I think I’m spending more money than I would have on (other) avenues,” he said. “It’s very challenging because of COVID to do a lot of the conventional campaigns.”
Salka, who has raised and spent the least of all the candidates, said he prefers to work on a small budget.
“People are struggling, and I wasn’t asking anything large from people,” he said.
Whereas Minkler called out the La Plata County Democratic Party Central Committee’s donation to Salka’s campaign, Salka was quick to retort that Minkler has been funded by many top local Republicans.
Minkler has outraised and outspent Salka by about $10,000 in both categories.
Minkler, for his part, has made no bones during this election that he is a moderate conservative.
“So if you’re a conservative in the county and want to support a candidate, you don’t have many options,” he said.
Candidates are required to file one more campaign finance report before the Nov. 3 election.