More than a half-million dollars has already been spent in a five-way Omaha mayoral race that has yet to kick into high gear, state campaign filings show.
The candidates collectively raised nearly $1.4 million last year, and the race is on pace to be the most expensive in city history.
“It's obvious we're going to break all spending records for a mayor's race. That goes without saying,” said Paul Landow, a political science professor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.
Mayor Jim Suttle, a Democrat, led all candidates with nearly $365,000 in donations, according to campaign finance reports filed with the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission.
He also led the way in spending. His committee, formed in 2008, went through about $242,000 in 2012.
More than $75,000 of the mayor's spending went to Prairie Strategies, the mayor's Omaha-based campaign consultant team. The company received at least one payment each month.
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Other top recipients of money from the mayor's campaign include: Power Thru of Richmond, Vt., for consulting and advertising; Grassroots Solutions of Minneapolis for consulting; and Noelle Obermeyer for consulting and various reimbursements.
That Suttle's campaign committee has remained active shows that his challengers are in for a fight, Landow said. Other candidates' committees formed last summer.
“The mayor has had consultants on retainer the entire time he's been in office, which likely means they are highly organized, geared up and ready to run for re-election,” he said.
The campaign fund also is used to reimburse the mayor for job-related expenses. Those reimbursements came to about $9,000 last year.
The second-biggest spender was businessman Dave Nabity.
Nabity, one of three Republicans in the officially nonpartisan race, raised about $274,000 and spent $103,000.
The top recipient at $30,000 was Ravun LLC, an Omaha-based consultant. St. Paul-based Voyageur Co. was the second-largest recipient at about $28,500 for consulting and artwork.
Nabity said his campaign had to spend money to catch up with other candidates. He is the only candidate who has never held public office.
“We had to start from scratch,” he said. “For us it's getting the staff working early to build the campaign. We had to bring on the right people to start building momentum for the campaign from a very early stage.”
Suttle and Ashford were the only candidates who began the fundraising period, the 2012 calendar year, with cash in the bank.
City Councilwoman Jean Stothert spent about $95,000. Dan Welch, a former council president, and State Sen. Brad Ashford each spent around $50,000.
At the end of 2012, Stothert had the most left in her war chest with $240,000. Welch, Suttle and Nabity followed. Ashford reported the least cash on hand, with nearly $150,000.
The primary will be held in April. The top two candidates will advance to the general election in May.
Landow said he believes Suttle will make it to May. The collective $1 million raised by challengers so far, he said, shows that whoever survives the primary will have no problem raising money.
“There's a lot of people with money to contribute interested in defeating Suttle,” Landow said.
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