St. Pete City Council candidate Will Newton crushed his opponent, Lisa Wheeler-Brown, in the last campaign finance reports due before Tuesday’s election. Newton raised nearly $10,000 in just one week compared to Wheeler-Brown’s $1,740 haul.
The latest campaign finance win brings Newton’s total contributions to more than $72,000 while Wheeler-Brown has raised just $57,000. And Wheeler-Brown has less than $2,000 in the bank while Newton sits with nearly $18,000.
That’s a lot of money to work with in the final days of campaigning, putting pressure on Wheeler-Brown to get as many boots on the ground throughout St. Pete to combat what may end up being an onslaught of campaign mail supporting Newton.
Wheeler-Brown’s largest contribution this report came from her own campaign manager, Meagan Salisbury, for $750. Other smaller contributions rolled in from residents for amounts raising to about $20 to $200.
Wheeler-Brown’s only expense this report was to Mad Dog Mail for campaign mailers.
Newton, meanwhile, saw a bit of a shift in his campaign funding strategy so far. While he still brought in maximum $1,000 contributions from two firefighter’s groups in Miami and Orlando, Newton saw an uptick in smaller contributions from St. Pete residents and those just outside city limits.
St. Pete-based architect Jason Jenson kicked in $200. City Council members Steve Kornell and Amy Foster each donated $100 and City Council member-elect Ed Montanari cut a check for $200. Politically active St. Pete resident Frank Lupo contributed $500.
Newton also continued to rake in contributions from realtors groups. Three based in Florida each contributed $500. So did fire inspector Dora Pearl. Myakka River Trading in Clearwater cut a check for $500.
Meanwhile, Newton also outspent Wheeler-Brown this report. Most of his total $6,687 in expenses went to Politicus for things like stationary, business cards, web site, letter head, ads and robo-calls.
Newton has spent a total of more than $54,000 so far in his campaign, which started in June.
Newton and Wheeler-Brown are in a heated race to replace District 7 incumbent, Wengay Newton, Will Newton’s brother. The two have swapped allegations over the past month or so.
Newton backers point to a series of questionable campaign finance details coming out of Wheeler-Brown’s camp including a $500 expense for personal dental work, failure to report in-kind contributions and a flurry of other small errors the campaign blames on Wheeler-Brown’s inexperience with campaign finance while she was in between campaign consultants.
Another allegation directed at Wheeler-Brown regarding a foundation she created in her slain son’s name prompted her campaign to lash out at Newton’s for arbitrarily accusing her of profiting from her son’s murder.
Newton supporters see that as an ongoing issue as answers to how much the foundation raised and how the money was spent have been answered, but not backed up with proof.
However, Wheeler-Brown’s supporters are furious at the implication and reactions during a debate this week seemed to tip in Wheeler-Brown’s favor as attendees reacted with groans of disgust when she brought it up.
Meanwhile, Wheeler-Brown’s campaign continues to point out that Newton had a $32,000 tax lien that he won’t explain even though it was paid off in 2012. Newton’s campaign said the tax bill came from work as head of the city’s firefighter union, but won’t give more detail or provide documents.
A recent mailer also criticized Newton for taking “beach days” implying that he had inappropriately used “swap days” as a firefighter for personal financial gain. The mailer cited a 2013 Tampa Bay Times article in which the then-fire chief changed the swap policy based solely on his suspicion that Newton was abusing the program. The same article, however, admits that the allegations could not be proven.
Another mailer out this week criticized Wheeler-Brown for past criminal indiscretions.
This race is widely regarded as one of the ugliest ever.
The two will find out who wins a seat on the council this coming Tuesday.