County Exec Fundraising Confounds Pundit Perceptions

Local political junkies guess the primary winners and may be missing the boat

Local political junkies guess the primary winners and may be missing the boat

• Topics: Whatcom County, Elections,

With four weeks left before the primary election, here’s a little bit of analysis on the four contested races.  As usual, it’s a contest between reality and perceptions.  In the County Exec race, the perceptions may be running differently than reality.  If you were to ask who the strongest candidates are, most people would not list Jack Louwes and David Stalheim as the strongest two.  It may be that this is the case.

A week ago, a small group of the politically obsessed denizens and hangers on at Northwest Citizen got together for an evening.  As I’ve occasionally done in the past, I circulated a list the primary candidates and asked people to pick who they thought would finish first in each of the races.  The results were remarkably in agreement.  Of the eleven submissions, nine or more thought Doug Ericksen, Bill Elfo, Dan Pike, and Gary Jensen would be the top vote getters on August 16.

This is unusual because of the high degree of consensus.  Usually there’s more difference of opinion in what people think is going on.  It’s possible, in a small group of self-styled experts such as ourselves, we just talked each other into it.  I suspect, however, that these expectations are mostly due to the normal effect of incumbency on elections.  Re-election campaigns are frequently boring because the voters are usually content to plod along behind whoever is currently filling a position.

After a phone call from one of our more savvy elections observers, I logged into the Washington Public Disclosure web site to look at fundraising activity.  My caller suggested that Doug Ericksen’s campaign was not generating the sort of money one would expect from all the attention he’s been getting.

You can check the reports yourself on the web.  Pro tip:  the locality column in the PDC database will begin with “Whatcom” or “City of” for the primary races.

The surprise of this season is that Doug Ericksen hasn’t raised any real money for this primary campaign.  David Stalheim has sent out a fundraising letter to selected areas.  Stalheim’s letter claims that Ericksen has $50,000 for the primary race.  This is one of those things that might be true, but isn’t really the case.

Ericksen has a $50,000 surplus account from his previous legislative campaigns.  Of this war chest, Ericksen transferred $10,000 into his County Exec race.  In terms of actual fundraising, he’s been a slouch -- collecting only $1,123.45 in cash contributions from nine donors.

The leader in fundraising in the Exec race is David Stalheim.  He’s raised a total of $16,026.00 with $15,485.00 from 115 cash contributors.  Jack Louws has $15,146.83 with $13,170.00 from 50 cash contributors.  Tom Anderson trails with $6,212.00, $4,975.00 from 39 cash contributors.  The upshot is that it looks like Ericksen is resting on his laurels while trying to coast to victory on name recognition.

Just dollars alone don’t tell the story.  This is why I’ve emphasized the number of contributors and cash contribution numbers.  The number of contributors is often a very good indicator of the amount of campaign activity and the depth of support.  Likewise, the cash contributions category tells more of the story than the total raised.  This is because the total can include large chunks of money put up by the candidate himself, as is the case in Doug Ericksen’s campaign.

Also, looking at the donors list of individual contributions gives a picture of base the campaign is drawing on.  In Louwes’ campaign, the contributors are coming from all over Whatcom County.  This puts the lie to some of the whispering that Jack lacks support outside of Lynden.  He’s been active in countywide issues and that activity shows in where his money is coming from.

In contrast, David Stalheim is raising his money from the Bellingham zip codes.  Contributions from 98225 make up about a third of his total.   The majority of his donors come from the three Bellingham area zip codes, 98225, 98226, and 98229.

Tom Anderson has a respectable number of contributors totalling 39.  His money is almost entirely from the southern part of the county.  To put things in perspective, Anderson has roughly four times the contributors and cash contributions compared to Doug Ericksen.

I’ll have more to say about the primary races later.  But for now, the interesting anomaly is Doug Ericksen’s expensive Potemkin village.
correction: Doug Ericksen's name was misspelled in the original posting.  My apologies.

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About Paul deArmond

Closed Account • Member since May 29, 2009

Paul de Armond was a writer, reporter and research analyst. He is the recipient of the Whatcom Human Rights Task Force 2001 Human Rights Award. In the 1990s, he and Jay [...]

Comments by Readers

Daniel Warner

Jul 22, 2011

Hi All,

This is an interesting analysis but it contains a recurring annoying error: “Doug Ericksen” it is, not “Ericsen.”

The trouble with Tom Anderson is he lacks charisma; the trouble with David Stalheim is the pro-growthers and developers dislike him very much and will be very motivated to defeat him.

Best regards,

Dan Warner


Paul deArmond

Jul 23, 2011

The Anderson/Stalheim race got more interesting Thursday night.  The Stalheim campaign attempted to “re-vote” the Whatcom Democrats decision to not endorse in the County Exec race and thereby cut Anderson’s campaign off from party resources.

I haven’t been able to confirm it yet, but it appears they may have recruited new party members after the last endorsement vote.  It looked to me like a sneak attack.

After the dust settled, the result appears to be a win for Anderson, as the Stalheim maneuver was defeated and a dual endorsement was the result.  That was not what Stalheim’s people wanted when they pushed for this unprecedented move to nullify a previous endorsement vote.  Stalheim is relying on Dan McShane’s political base.

It’s always hard to switch voters from a past candidate to a present one.  McShane’s base may be a starting place for Stalheim (as we see in the fundraising) but it can be hard to expand beyond that base. 

The move to overturn the previous Democratic Party endorsement process could be related to McShane’s most recent voter identification information is limited to Bellingham voters when he ran against Pike four years ago. 

The most puzzling question is why the Democrats’ Executive Board allowed this radical change in endorsement rules.

The Ericksen/Louws race is a different matter.  Both have support from previous elections, but Louws appears to be more active locally and be getting broader support.  The Republicans have been silent about endorsements this year.

The point of the PDC reports is that money alone doesn’t tell the whole story.  Number of contributors can be more important than dollars.


David Stalheim

Jul 23, 2011


Since my employment at the City is paid for with federal funds, I could not and cannot take any part in what happens with partisan endorsements. That is why I was so surprised last month when, as a write in candidate, I received 64% of the vote for endorsement.

Our campaign is developing so much enthusiasm and energy.  Our kickoff event had over 200 people attend—unheard of in local races here.  I have major endorsements, including county council, city council, State Senator and State Representative.  I have the endorsement of the Sierra Club and Conservation Voters.

I have support from the various camps in the Mayor’s race, which should make a Primary party difficult to plan and attend.

We are in this race to win it and have a plan to make it happen.  Give me a call at home if you have any questions about my campaign or issues.  I am in the phone book.

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