Tuesday, March 25, 2008 | City Councilman Brian Maienschein brought in almost twice as much in campaign contributions as any of his opponents in the first two and a half months of 2008, according to campaign statements filed Monday.

Maienschein’s success in fundraising places him in a strong position vis-à-vis his four opponents as the councilman already has more than $250,000 in campaign funds tucked away from an uncontested City Council reelection run in 2004.

The amount of money each candidate can raise is likely to be a crucial factor in a city attorney race featuring several high-profile candidates. The hopefuls will have to struggle in the coming months to set themselves apart in a field that includes two sitting city councilmen, a former Poway mayor and an incumbent who has spent four publicity-rich years in office.

Incumbent City Attorney Mike Aguirre raised $7,474 from Jan. 1 through March 17, compared to Maienschein’s $67,798. City Councilman Scott Peters raised $22,865 in monetary contributions and loaned his own campaign $45,000 for a total of $67,865. Judge Jan Goldsmith came in second to Maienschein in contributions. He brought in $38,644. And Democratic attorney Amy Lepine raised $501.

Goldsmith also raised $8,220 in the last few months of last year, bringing his total raised in the race to $46,864. Aguirre had raised $4,619 by the end of last year, so his total raised to date is $12,093.66. Maienschein’s war chest now totals $317,798 after Monday’s filings. None of the other candidates brought in money prior to Jan. 1.

In the less-crowded mayor’s race, money is still shaping up to be a key issue. Challenger Steve Francis continued to spend his personal funds at a rapid rate, plugging $1.2 million of his own money into his mayoral campaign between Jan. 1 and March 17. Combined with the $185,266 Francis contributed or loaned to his campaign in 2007, the businessman has given a total of more than $1.38 million to his candidacy.

His competitor, Mayor Jerry Sanders, raised $100,491, according to his filing. That brings Sanders’ total to $443,417. For the first time, his campaign announced a fundraising goal for the campaign — $800,000.

The fundraising efforts ahead of the June primary come at a time when the national economy is struggling. The pain is most acute in the building and construction industries, two typical stalwarts of local campaign giving. On top of that, new laws that require lobbyists to disclose the money they’ve directly raised on behalf of a candidate have also complicated efforts, said Jennifer Tierney, a political consultant who’s heading up three City Council campaigns.

“It’s requiring a lot of phone calls, a lot of personal attention to raise the money,” she said.

Maienschein said his fundraising results in the city attorney’s race show he has a strong base of support. The amount of money he has brought in is especially significant because he has only been in the race officially for less than a month, he said.

“I’m very pleased with this as I have been very pleased with the response to my candidacy in general,” Maienschein said.

Aguirre said he is happy with the level of contributions his campaign has raised at this point in the race. He said he hasn’t been focusing on fundraising but that he plans to start holding fundraising events next month. If necessary, Aguirre said, he will inject his own funds into the race to pay for mailers and other promotional materials. In 2004, Aguirre loaned his campaign more than $500,000.

Aguirre said the voters of San Diego have had the last four years of his tenure to judge him on. His success as a city attorney speaks for itself, he said.

“I don’t see any advantage in running a bunch of 30-second spots that don’t really add anything to the debate,” Aguirre said.

Aguirre has previously spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on his own campaigns and speculation has run rampant in local political circles over whether Aguirre still has the financial resources available to bankroll another expensive election. He has said in interviews that he is willing to spend “as much as it takes” to win reelection.

Local Democratic political consultant Larry Remer, who is not involved in the city attorney’s race, said he was very surprised at what he called Goldsmith’s “anemic” fundraising effort. Because Goldsmith has been in the race for awhile and has the backing of the Republican Party and local law enforcement, Remer said, he should have raised much more.

Remer said each candidate should be aiming for a critical mass of between $350,000 and $400,000 to spend on communicating with the city’s voters. Peters and Aguirre can both spend that out of their own money, he said. Maienschein is nearly there because of his $250,000 campaign war chest, but Goldsmith and Lepine will be struggling to reach that threshold, Remer said.

“Goldsmith has declared his candidacy far longer than any candidate except Aguirre, so for him to have done so awfully doesn’t bode well. I can’t see how he gets to that critical level of funding he needs,” Remer said.

John Hoy, Goldsmith’s campaign manager said the campaign is “happy and on track” in its fundraising effort. Hoy added that, though money is always an important factor, the city attorney’s race will likely receive a lot of media attention and that Goldsmith has shown he communicates well with the public via the media.

Peters’ campaign manager Mary Anne Pintar said the $22,865 Peters’ campaign has raised in contributions represents just two weeks of fundraising efforts. Peters has not yet held a single fundraising event, she said, and his campaign has only sent out one fundraising letter.

“Considering Maienschein has been raising money since before Jan. 1, I think this shows Scott is raising money at as good a clip as anyone else,” Pintar said.

Maienschein said his fundraising total is the result of four money-raising events held since Jan. 1. His campaign records show the vast majority of his contributions came in during March and late February. More events are to come, Maienschein said.

Joanna Jacob, Lepine’s campaign manager, said the $501 listed on Lepine’s campaign finance records doesn’t include about $2,000 in contributions the campaign has raised since the March 17 cutoff for the document and a $5,000 loan Lepine made to her campaign.

And Jacob said Lepine has not yet properly started her fundraising efforts. The campaign has a large kick-off event planned for April and will be holding several more fundraising events in coming months, Jacob said.

In the mayor’s race, Francis’ spending has allowed him to buy up serious television airtime. According to his filings, he spent $339,881.50 on television airtime from Jan. 1 until March 17 and paid $693,137.97 to the media consultants who produced those ads, Squire Knapp Dunn Communications. Francis also spent $3,353.25 on radio airtime.

Francis has launched an unprecedented television ad campaign, going on air 15 weeks before the election.

The Sanders campaign, on the other hand, has said it likely won’t go on air until three weeks before the election. It spent $24,140 on radio and $17,950 on ads with The San Diego Union-Tribune, a local newspaper, and SignOnSanDiego.com, its affiliated website.

Michael McSweeney, Sanders’ campaign manager, said the state of the economy has impacted fundraising, but predicted that people would be more motivated to give to the incumbent now that they see his challenger is for real.

“I think a lot of people sat on their wallets until they saw that this was serious,” he said.

Please contact Will Carless or Andrew Donohue directly with your thoughts, ideas, personal stories or tips. Or send a letter to the editor.

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