Tupelo Mayor candidates differ on campaign financing

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By Robbie Ward/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – While they agree on many of the issues facing Tupelo, the mayoral candidates have a clear divide when it come to financing their campaigns.
Attorney Jason Shelton plans to absorb the bulk of his campaign expenses through his personal income. Businessman and Ward 2 Councilman Fred Pitts believes in others investing in his campaign.
If the election four years ago suggests spending this year, Shelton, a Democrat, and Pitts, a Republican, should expect to spend significant sums of money. Incumbent Mayor Jack Reed Jr.’s political action committee raised about $147,000, while general election opponent Doyce Deas raised more than $53,000.
This election season Reed decided not to seek a second term, and Deas chose not to try a second time.
Unlike 2009, this year’s mayoral candidates do not have opponents in the party primaries May 7. However, they still plan to spent plenty of money.
Shelton has said he hasn’t set a budget for how much he will spend in the race but says it will be enough to win the June 4 general election.
“We’re going to be competitive in spending and financing this campaign,” he said. “Money in a campaign is a necessary evil.”
Television and newspaper ads, political yard signs, billboards, push cards, T-shirts and many of the other trappings of politics take money.
“I’m going to spend my own money for necessities of the campaign and to be a viable candidate,” Shelton said. “I’m not financially able to bankroll a campaign, but the same time my friends and family didn’t qualify to run for mayor – I did.”
Pitts said he’s not willing to cover the expense of an election that he expects to cost $75,000. He understands that his fundraising will expand dramatically compared to his City Council campaign, when he raised just under $6,000 in 2009.
Beginning Monday, he’ll spend an hour each day calling people asking for money. Having worked in sales for decades, he said he’s not discouraged when people say no.
“It helps if you believe in what you’re selling,” said Pitts, sitting inside his campaign headquarters surrounded by red political signs with his name on them.
A month ago, Pitts held his first fundraiser at the Silver Moon in downtown Tupelo. A few days ago, he held a second fundraiser at the same location. While he declined to say how much the fundraiser raised, Pitts said he received 25 to 30 checks out of the 150 or so people who attended.
So far, Pitts said his average contribution has been about $200 with about 100 donations total. Shelton said he hasn’t done any formal fundraising yet but has received unsolicited contributions.
At the end of the month, all candidates for municipal office must turn in campaign finance reports to the city clerk’s office. Candidates must name contributors who give more than $200, along with expenses more than that amount. They must also list how much cash on hand they have or face fines of $50 per day for late reports.
Among incumbent Tupelo City Council members, Mike Bryan of Ward 6 and Markel Whittington of Ward 1 raised the most money with $16,978 and $10,254 respectively in the 2009 campaign. Jim Newell of Ward 3 raised $2,205, Nettie Davis of Ward 4 raised $750, Jonny Davis of Ward 6 raised $2,500 and Willie Jennings of Ward 7 raised $405.
While Shelton will likely cover most of his campaign’s expenses, he plans to hold fundraisers. He said how much money he has to spend will help determine whether voters will see his messages run on television commercials and in newspaper ads.
“It depends on fundraising support,” he said. “But hopefully.”
robbie.ward@journalinc.com