Local Politics

Taverns top tenants in Raleigh campaign donations

Posted October 7, 2015

A controversial political ad painting downtown Raleigh as “Drunk Town” had people talking Wednesday night after it sparked a YouTube spoof and social media backlash.

— A recent claim that bar owners have an outsize voice in shaping the future of downtown Raleigh is bolstered by an analysis of campaign finance records through Sept. 30 for the council and mayoral races.

Bar and restaurant owners throughout Raleigh have donated $26,890 to 10 candidates for mayor and city council.

The number goes up to $27,490 when a $500 contribution from Devan Patel, who plans to build a hotel in downtown Raleigh, and a $100 contribution from the NC Lodging and Restaurant Institution, are included.

Those who have publicly come out in favor of more restrictions on downtown night life donated $14,100 to five candidates over the same period, or slightly more than half the amount spent by their opponents.

Last week, the political action committee Wake Citizens for Good Government kicked off a media campaign focusing on the downsides of Raleigh's growing bar scene. Chaired and funded to the tune of $30,000 by Public Policy Polling CEO Dean Debnam, the campaign is known for coining the term "DrunkTown."

The ads claimed that Raleigh residents were being left out of the conversation on the future growth of the downtown core, and that bar owners had an outsize voice in shaping this future.

Reliable figures for the cost of this campaign, or for promotional and get out the vote efforts conducted by competing groups such as Keep Raleigh Vibrant, were not available for analysis.

In addition to the Wake Citizens PAC, campaign finance records show that Debnam was the largest contributor in favor of more restrictions, and that he has contributed a total of $10,100 to four candidates in 2015.

These donations included $1,000 to Councilor Bonner Gaylord District E, $2,000 to Mayor Nancy McFarlane, $2,000 to District A Challenger Dickie Thompson and $5,100 to Councilor Russ Stephenson, At-Large.

READ MORE: Raleigh Public Record: Taverns Triumph Over Tenants in Campaign Donations

WRAL.com has a content sharing partnership with Raleigh Public Record, a non-profit online news organization focused on coverage of Raleigh and local government.

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  • Steven Shannon Oct 7, 2015
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    By these numbers, if you add the $30k for the drunktown campaign, the pro-restriction "lobby" actually spent more and had an outsize voice in the matter by a score of 44,100 to 27,490, even if it wasn't tied to a specific candidate. I think it is important to keep in mind that the size of voice is measured by more than contributions to specific candidates. In fact in this case, only $30,000 can be directly linked to downtown restrictions only. The rest of the donations could, God forbid, speak to the many other candidate positions that apparently no one wanted to discuss in the weeks leading up to the election. This article really paints the politics of the donors as being horribly singular in both cases, and makes it read more like op-ed than news.