With restrictions related to the novel coronavirus outbreak aimed at reducing crowds, candidates for La Plata County commissioner are increasingly spending their campaign funds on social media platforms to get their message out.
In the November election, Jack Turner, an independent, is running against Democratic candidate Marsha Porter-Norton in District 2. Charly Minkler, also an independent, is running against Matt Salka, a Democrat, in District 3.
Candidates on Tuesday filed the latest campaign finance reports, which track fundraising and spending from Oct. 28 to June 4.
Serious money was raised and spent for three candidates: Minkler, Porter-Norton and Turner.
Porter-Norton raised about $20,000 during the time period, with a $3,000 donation from the La Plata County Democratic Central Committee. The rest of the contributions were from about 250 private individuals.
Porter-Norton spent about $15,000, mostly on things like advertising, campaign signage and social media. She said as the pandemic hit, her campaign had to cancel several planned meet and greets, and turn efforts online.
“I already had a plan for digital and social media, but I needed to do more remote campaigning,” she said. “It does force you to relook at your strategy, for sure.”
Turner and Minkler also invested heavily on advertising and social media platforms. But the two independent candidates also had an added expense as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak.
To qualify for the November ballot, both independent candidates must gather 600 signatures. But that effort has become difficult given the restrictions around the coronavirus outbreak, which deter gatherings and going door-to-door.
As an alternative, Turner and Minkler have planned several drive-thru events where people can sign petitions inside their vehicle. Minkler did not return a call seeking comment Wednesday.
Turner said each independent candidate has spent about $2,200 to put on the drive-thru event. Turner said his campaign spent another $1,000 on personal protective equipment, shirts, food and fuel for volunteers collecting signatures.
“The biggest expense we’ve had is just to get on the ballot,” Turner said. “On the one hand, we’re ordered to stay away from each other, but we need to be face-to-face to get on the ballot.”
In all, Minkler raised about $7,200 during the most recent reporting period, with notable contributions from Ignacio resident Ezra Lee, who gave $2,500 and Durango resident David Peters, who gave $2,000. Minkler spent about $13,700.
State records show Turner raised about $10,300, with notable donations of more than $1,000 from La Plata County residents Nancy Brockman, Laurie Barker, Roderick Barker and Lori Carver. He spent about $12,500.
The landscape for fundraising, too, has changed since the COVID-19 outbreak.
Salka, for instance, has said he has since taken a passive approach to fundraising, given the economic shutdown and financial struggles some residents in the community have been experiencing.
Salka reported raising around $6,000, half of which was a $3,000 donation from the La Plata County Democratic Central Committee and the rest from a handful of private individuals. He spent $1,300 on his campaign, records show.
“Everyone’s been struggling, so I’ve really focused on not reaching out as much to get campaign donations,” he said.
Salka said he’s still found ways to campaign, building his own website, creating ads and reaching out on low-cost social media platforms. But he expects to kick fundraising up in coming weeks and spending more as the election nears.
“Right now, I’ve been saving my money, but when it gets closer to fall, I’ll spend more,” he said.
While there has been widespread outreach on social media, candidates interviewed for this story did acknowledge there’s a good portion of the voter base that doesn’t engage online as much as others.
The difficulty will be reaching that segment of the community while fundraising events or in-person candidate forums are still not allowed under current state public health orders.
“This is a challenge for all candidates in the country right now, let alone in our county,” Porter-Norton said. “We just have to get creative, maybe by having events with social distancing, and outside instead of inside.”
The next campaign finance filing is scheduled for June 26.