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The Hunt for Green in October…and the Last Springfield Mayoral Campaign Finance Reports…

Nightfall on the 2023 Mayoral race. (WMP&I)

Fortune put the 2023 election on the second-latest possible date. That allowed time for one more round of campaign finance reports in the Springfield mayoral race. In October Mayor Domenic Sarno outraised his rival, at-large Councilor Justin Hurst, reversing a lag from the prior months. However, the incumbent’s long-held cash-on-hand advantage has kept him well ahead of his challenger in October.

Sarno spent $124,039 in October, mostly on advertising. He raised $85,830 to end the month with $32,084 to spend on the campaign’s final days in November. By contrast Hurst, spent $30,900 last month against $32,066 in fundraising. He limped into November with only $5,148 thanks to a $5,000 self-loan. As of this posting, he has reported $12,496 since November began, but $1,900 was also loan.

Despite Sarno commanding the airwaves, which was less true in the preliminary, the race had muted somewhat over the course of October. The candidates sparred in a debate and mailers and canvassers seeped into neighborhoods.

The defining event now, is the explosive allegations of vote-buying the city leveled against Hurst. The evidence, in the form of videos and Election staff affidavits, strongly suggests an associate of Hurst’s was paying the homeless to vote. Hurst has denied the allegations. The city’s behavior in disseminating the evidence is troubling. Yet, Hurst has taken on increasingly apocalyptic and overwrought rhetoric to accuse Sarno of stealing the election.

The past week begs the question “how much the campaign fundraising will matter in the end?” It may have already mattered little well before now. Since Hurst announced on November 30 last year, Sarno has raised $423,071. Yet, his expenditures have been comically wasteful. That could not even get the mayor 50% in the preliminary. It was his worst performance against preliminary challengers ever.

Hurst has not come close to Sarno’s fundraising only raking in $160,000 since announcing his bid. While October did show a notable uptick in fundraising, his first month after becoming the only remaining challenger to Sarno in September was lackluster. It became apparent that many of the personal and professional sources he initially turned had maxed out. Few new sources emerged until the last week. Meanwhile, his spending has been by turns furtive and inapt to counter an incumbent mayor.

Sarno Hurst

Strange to say this was more peaceful times. It was two weeks ago. (still via WWLP/YouTube)

Of Sarno’s October expenditures, $89,000 was for advertisements via his longtime videographer/media vender David Horgan. Within that, $9,000 is for ads on and social media. The remainder is mostly for television and radio, largely in line with WMP&I’s previous report on TV and radio advertising. Other larger expenditures include $4,800 for the campaign’s office manager, $3,788 for rent for the campaign’s headquarters and $4,511 for the Student Prince (likely a fundraiser).

A notable return vender was Roche Associates. The Wilbraham-based senior living marketing firm received $4,000 for a Voter-ID survey and $4,449 for telephone canvassing. It was paid $7,500 in June for “Voter-ID of likely primary voters.” The firm did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The final bit of notable expenses were nearly $4,000 for food for volunteers, including on Election Day. The vendors were AC Produce and Koffee Kup Bakery in Chicopee. Another $2,000 went toward signs from Millennium Press and $1,209 for television editing.

WMP&I previously reported many of the contributions the candidates received in October. Of Sarno’s nearly eight-six grand, $58,000 was filed with the state by mid-month. More than half of the remaining $26,000 came from donations of $500 or more. This included $2,000 from a Topsfield couple, another $2,000 from a Cohasset couple (one of whom is a manager at Winn Companies), and $1,000 from Joan Roche, the president of Roche Associates.

The campaign reported about $11,000 late in October that it had actually received earlier in the month. These were not available when originally WMP&I reported preliminary October data. These late reports include several $500 and $1,000 contributions with no employer listed and addresses as far away as Illinois and Northern Virginia.

Also in this group of late filed/early contributions are five $500 donations from MassMutual employees John Deitelbaum, Denise Duquette, Deborah Ianno, Bradley Lucido and Allison Weiss. The uptick in MassMutual employees donating to Sarno is noteworthy as it had been rare before 2023. The campaign received several smaller donations from other MassMutual employees in October.

A late filed report a day, keeps OCPF away! (Still via Focus Springfield)

The Sarno campaign finally disclosed the identity of its contributors from September. A recurring problem for the campaign has been timely filing of its contributor list. In September, it reported nearly $15,000 in contributors but no names. The Massachusetts Office of Campaign & Political Finance sent a letter to the campaign and the campaign updated its report.

(It is not clear if all of Sarno’s audit issues have been resolved, but OCPF has not sent any follow-ups yet. Hurst has one open letter noting a $100 excess contribution and requesting clarification on August expenses).

These September contributions included nine $1,000 contribution, three of which came from executives at Northern Tree Service (and one from a household member thereof). A Florida insurance contractor, an INSA executive, a Springfield auto repair shop proprietor and the Munich Haus’ owner all maxed out, per this late report. A notable $500 contributor from the late September reports was from US Representative Richard Neal’s son, Brendan.

If nothing else, Hurst’s campaign finance reports are tidier. As with Sarno, most of his contributions by mid-October were available to report on alongside September figures. However, Hurst does not appear to have had late deposit filings for earlier contributions.

His largest expense in October was a hair over $10,000 to D3, his campaign mailing vendor. A little over $6,000 went to Get Set Marketing, which designs and produces his campaign lit. Hurst reported $730 on radio ads in October a couple hundred on Facebook ads.

Also in the report are an indeterminate $2,028 expense and personal services for the campaign. This includes two $1000 stipends to Monthend Strategies, $3,750 to Hurst’s campaign manager and $500 for communications work. Among other notable payments are $500 for Marlee’s and $800 for the Cedars, both event spaces, and $550 for ads in the Afro-American Point of View. The Point of View is a newspaper for Black audiences that Hurst’s parents publish.

Justin Hurst

A boomlet of donations amid the alleged scandal? (still via YouTube/Focus Springfield)

The $15,360 Hurst raised after WMP&Is’ review of mid-October data report includes a handful of contributions over $500. A third of the money was the candidate’s loan. A Louisiana engineering manager and Longmeadow therapist each gave $1,000. A contractor in Springfield gave $750. Two more $500 checks came from an Amherst Media employee and real estate agent.

Since November began—and the vote-buying accusations began to fly—Hurst has collected at least $10,596 in donations. His $1,900 self-loan brings it up to nearly thirteen large. He has received four $1,000 donations, including a pair of max-out checks from a Cambridge couple who run a nonprofit. The other two were from an out-of-state contractor and real estate investor.

An editor at the company that publishes People donated $600. A paving contractor and a Springfield administrator each gave $500. Another notable $500 donation came from Kim Janey, the former Boston City Council president who briefly served as acting mayor during the interregnum between Marty Walsh and Michelle Wu.

Whether modest or not, any surge Hurst is enjoying could be too late. Indeed, the money is essentially counted. Attention now turns to counting ballots. Polls are open from 7am to 8pm in Springfield on Tuesday.