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Letter to the Editor: Questions mayoral campaign financing

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I’ve been thinking a lot about politics these past few months. Recently, I’ve been focusing on what is going on here in the City of Ferndale, our little corner of paradise. Today, I decided to look into the race for Mayor between the incumbent, Jon Mutchler, and the challenger, Greg Hansen. I’m sure you’ve all heard the adage, “Follow the money.” With that as my inspiration, I went to MyFerndaleNews, and discovered at the bottom of each candidate’s profile page was a link to their Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) report. What a find! Here’s a link to Greg Hansen’s report. This one will take you to Jon Mutchler’s report. The data I downloaded for the PDC reports was current as of October 17th, 2019.

I dove into the reports with gusto not at all sure what I’d find. Greg it seems has raised $ 6,112.93 according to his report. He has a total of 7 named contributors thus far. He reported $25 attributed to Small Contributors. He has invested in cash or in kind $3237.93 of his own money in his campaign. His mom and dad kicked in a $1000 each. Three Ferndale-ian’s contributed $250, $100 of that was in kind. Greg had only one out of town contribution from Blaine for $500. Greg’s expenditures to date have been $4,170.77. That’s all that’s been reported so far. I ran into Greg and his wife last night at Fringe Brewing, where I had a chance to ask him about the three Ferndale donors who he said were all long time friends. The one out-of-towner turned out to be his mother-in-law. One of his friends is also a business owner who’d made the $100 donation mentioned above.

Jon reports having raised a total of $16,546.78. Nearly three times the amount that Greg raised. Why is there such a disparity in the contribution amounts? Well, only one way to find out. Put on my spelunking gear and crawl into the data caves.

I began looking through the contributor list. Jon’s largest single donation came from Phillips 66 for $2000. Why is a corporation, nominally located in Ferndale, donating that much money to an insignificant nonpartisan mayoral candidate? How does it benefit Phillips 66?

By the way, the most recent PDC report shows that this amount came in as two donations while a previous PDC report listed it as a single donation and the date for those donations clearly shows that they were received well before the primary election was held and should be classified as having been given for the Full Election Cycle rather than split between the Primary and General. There are other contributions that are similarly misclassified.

Where do the contributions come from?

Ferndale Contributors $8,950.00 54.29%
Out of Town Contributors $7,536.78 45.71%
Total Contributions $16,486.78 100.00%

Why would people outside of Ferndale be contributing to a local nonpartisan mayoral candidate? What is in it for them?

The next thing I did was try to cross reference both candidates’ contributors’ names using the WA Secretary of State’s Corporate Database and other internet searches to see what business connections might be made to their contributors. My criteria was if a contributor’s name appeared as a corporate governor and the corporation(s) was located in a city in Whatcom County, I’d count that as a business connection. In the case of Ferndale contributors, I also did internet searches on the names and included any who had clear business connections. I focused primarily on the bigger donors but included any donor who was identified in the PDC report as having some business connection. Consequently, I strongly suspect that I am still underestimating the business community contributions to Jon’s campaign.

Business Connected $10,225.00 62.02%
No Business Connection $6,261.78 37.98%
Total Contributions $16,486.78 100.00%

In all of this money, the only money contributed by the Mutchler clan appears to be the $525 from Marilyn Mutchler from Bremerton. In other words, Jon has no personal monetary investment in his own candidacy.

I guess the bottom line for me is why does Jon need this kind of money to run for the Mayor of Ferndale and why is so much of it coming from businesses and so much of that from out of town? Whose interests does this serve?

Ferndale voters might be wise to keep in mind the land developer tax/fees give away, the Catalyst Project, and who benefits from those, which if memory serves, have all happened since Mayor Mutchler came into office.

I’m having difficulty understanding just how Jon intends to spend all of this money. So far he’s reported $7,313.30 in expenses and still has over $9000 in his available contributions. His expenditures, so far, have been 175.35% of that spent by his opponent. With only a bit over 2 weeks until the election, what happens to the remaining contributions?

Total Contributions $16,486.78
Current Expenditures $7,313.30
Remaining Contributions $9,173.48

Regarding Jon’s expenditures, I find it curious that Jon has found it necessary to coordinate his campaign with other politicians and to spend campaign contributions on a political consultant. This is a part-time small city mayoral race after all, what possible need is there for political consultants?

To put this in a larger context, none of the city council races in town have reached the $5000 reporting threshold, Greg Hansen has exceeded the threshold by only a small margin and most of that was his own money, and yet Jon is three times over it and none of it appears to be Jon’s money. What drives Jon to spend and raise so much money? Why?

Gayland Gump

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One Comment

  1. Mandy Gagnon October 23, 2019

    Excellent letter! Unfortunately, not many people will think about it any more than just reading your letter. They buy into the smoke and mirrors. The sleight of hand. Do as I say, not as I do mentally. While I don’t live in Ferndale right now (did in the past), my friends and family still do. Ferndale residents need to pay attention, think critically and be wary of the wolf in sheep’s clothing and his sweet syrupy self serving promises. Follow the money!

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