Santa Monica City Hall (File photo)

As election season heats up, City Council candidates have submitted their latest financial statements, which show the incumbents leading in campaign contributions despite the challenges of raising money during the pandemic. As of Sept. 19, Ted Winterer has raised $25,357 — the most out of any candidate. He is trailed by fellow incumbents Terry O’Day, who has $18,619 in campaign contributions, and Gleam Davis who has raised $19,559, including a $5,000 personal loan.

“I think incumbents potentially have a fundraising advantage typically because we’ve been doing it for a number of election cycles, so we have a database of people who have donated to us in the past and we can reach out to them and ask them to donate again,” said Winterer.

Phil Brock has raised the most money out of any challenger with $14,425 in campaign donations. He is running on an anti-incumbent “change” slate for City Council alongside Oscar de la Torre, Christine Parra, and Mario Fonda-Bonardi. Fonda-Bonardi has raised $5,758 and contributed a $10,025 personal loan, while Parra has raised $4,495.

“Unfortunately you can’t get your message out without raising money. Unless you are going to self-finance your campaign there is no choice,” said Brock. “You get a fundraising advantage simply because you are an incumbent. You have the sources to developers and you have the sources to the people who have funded your campaigns before, so you have a built in tremendous advantage over any challenger in a Santa Monica election.”

In contrast to this trend, incumbent Ana Maria Jara has only raised $1,700, which is the least of any candidate. Jara lists total expenses at $3,047.50 which means she has unpaid bills totaling $1,950.

Kristin McCowan has $13,806 in campaign contributions, including a $5,000 personal loan. McCowan, who was appointed to City Council in July, is now running unopposed for her two-year seat as challenger Micah Cohen failed to secure enough signatures to be put on the ballot.

Challengers and incumbents alike are facing the new challenge of fundraising during a pandemic, which has tightened many donor’s pockets and prevents candidates from holding in-person events. By this point in the 2016 election Davis had received $30,492 in contributions as compared to $19,559 this year and Winterer has received $43,562 as compared to $25,357 this year.

“It’s very clear from the outreach I’ve done to past donors that the economic turmoil from the pandemic has hit many of us very hard and some people are not able to donate or not able to donate as much as they have in the past, so I’m very grateful and humble to have the support of people who have already contributed to my campaign,” said Winterer.

Incumbents do have the additional financial advantage of supporting each other’s campaigns and receiving donations from other elected City officials. Davis has received donations from two current and one former City Council member, three School Board members, and one College Board member. Winterer has received donations from four School Board members and two City Council members. O’Day has received funds from two City Council members and three School Board members.

So far Gleam Davis has spent $10,347, which is the most of any candidate. She is closely followed by Winterer who has spent $9,266 and Brock who has spent $6,715. Most candidates have spent the majority of their money on signs, web fees, and campaign advertising. However, both Davis and Winterer have opted to pay for campaign consultants.

Oscar de la Torre raised $10,635 and loaned himself another $10,000.