Chris Sutton, candidate for Cecil County Sheriff in the Democratic primary, has achieved what some might have considered impossible a year ago when he declared his candidacy: he raised more campaign funds than the incumbent Republican, Sheriff Barry Janney, long a local legend for his big-bucks political campaigns, according to reports filed Aug. 17 with the state Board of Elections.
Sutton raised $27,816 from January until August 10, on top of his 2009 fundraising of $38,313, for a total of $66,129, according to reports filed with the state. In contrast, Janney raised $21,990 since January, plus he raised another $25,250 in 2009, for a total of $47,240. Janney also had a carry-over balance from his last election campaign fund of $15,895, but even with that large cushion, his cumulative total available for this year’s election –$63,135– was still short of Sutton’s total, according to the state reports. [Cecil Times will file a separate report on Janney’s fundraising.]
Sutton’s impressive fundraising efforts took a few pages out of Janney’s political playbook: golf fundraisers. Most of his campaign funds stem from golf events, but he has also hosted a variety of venues, from a down-home dinner and silent auction in Cecilton to a large pig roast event and a dinner-dance with an auction that featured some of the most unusual items ever seen at a local political fundraiser, such as an autographed picture of Gene Simmons (the KISS band leader and reality TV show star) that raised $100 for the campaign. The auction also featured bidding on gift certificates, generally in the $25 to $50 range, provided by a wide variety of local businesses.
Sutton, a veteran deputy and a supervisor with the rank of Corporal in the Cecil County Sheriff’s Department, ran unsuccessfully in the general election against Janney four years ago and has been running a virtual campaign almost since the day after that election. Sutton started fundraising and spending campaign funds on flyers, billboards and a website last year, after formally filing for the race in July, 2009. The early activity would normally scare off a potential primary challenger, especially since Sutton has a high profile and name recognition from the last campaign. But nothing is “normal” about Cecil County politics this year.
Sutton had the Democratic field to himself until Robert “Skip” DeWitt, another veteran deputy and the son of the late former Sheriff Jack DeWitt, suddenly entered the Democratic primary on May 22 of this year. As a result, Sutton has had to put resources into the primary campaign that he would otherwise have been able to put aside for the general election. (Another Democrat, William T. Gerczak, was a last-minute filer and has been largely a no-show on the campaign trail.) Cecil Times reported previously on DeWitt’s fundraising here: https://ceciltimes.wordpress.com/2010/08/30/sheriffs-race-skip-dewitt-runs-slow-but-steady-with-in-the-bank/
Despite all the campaign money that came in, Sutton has been spending it almost as fast as the money is raised. As the Cecil Times reported previously on his January campaign finance report here: https://ceciltimes.wordpress.com/2010/01/26/sutton-for-cecil-sheriff-lots-of-in-lots-out/ Sutton spent heavily on printing, billboard rentals and other start-up costs of the campaign, including his impressive website, www.suttonforsheriff.com He has continued to pour out the campaign spending in the past few months, with the result that his “total bank account balance” or cash on hand was just $23.72 on August 10, according to his campaign finance report.
Sutton told Cecil Times that he has held another fundraiser since the cut-off date for the state Elections Board report and said he will show a profit of $7,000 to $8,000 for the event. (Yet another deadline for filing campaign finance reports with the state is coming up this week and will reflect fundraising and expenditures by candidates since August 10.)
The Sutton campaign has benefited from donations from Cecil County FOP Lodge 2, which represents deputies in the Sheriff’s Department. Lodge 2 and its Political Action Committee reported donations totaling $1,190 to Sutton’s campaign this year and the Lodge also donated the Gene Simmons picture as well as other pictures (including John Travolta and Toby Keith) for a total of $500 of in-kind donations for a campaign auction. The FOP Lodge 124 representing Elkton town officers purchased $300 in tickets to Sutton fundraisers and sponsored a golf hole for $400.
Sutton also received a $250 donation from Cecil Bank plus the bank sponsored a golf hole for $400. Some Republican names also show up on the roster: Michael Halter, who is running in the GOP primary for State’s Attorney, and Will Davis, an unsuccessful GOP candidate for State’s Attorney in the last election, dusted off the golf clubs, with Halter chipping in $400 and Davis $300.
Contributors and ticket purchasers represent a broad cross- section of individuals and local businesses, with no one geographic area or industry dominating the roster.
In an interview with The Cecil Times, Sutton was pleased to learn that he had out-raised Janney so far in the campaign season. “I hadn’t realized that,” he said. ” I think it is great that people have been willing to support us like that in these tough economic times.”
Sutton said the late entry of DeWitt into the primary had forced his campaign to “adapt” and re-focus its aim on the primary. “Yes, we had to raise more and spend more than we would have liked to,” he said. “We’ve been trying not to put the cart before the horse,” he said, and he has told his campaign supporters to focus on the primary now and then think about a general election campaign later.
He said he was pleased that his campaign has struck a balance between old-fashioned grassroots campaigning and modern Internet-savvy political tools. He has had a clever website, with a rolling tickertape listing newspaper crime news headlines, since early in the campaign and he has long had a presence on Facebook and Twitter social networking sites. “It’s the 21st Century; you have to reach people in new ways.”
Sutton said he wants to stay focused on the primary in the final days leading up to the Sept. 14 election. But if he wins the primary, he said he would be ready to jump into a general election contest and expected to hold a fund-raising dinner.
Since he already has his campaign infrastructure, with website and billboards in place, a general election campaign could probably be carried off with modest additional fundraising.