It's hardly news that Boston Mayor Marty Walsh has raised huge sums to finance his re-election campaign: a balance of more than $4 million by the May deadline for opponents to declare themselves — a staggering advantage over any would-be opponents.
It's more than 40 times the sum his principal rival, City Councilor Tito Jackson, had on hand by the same date.
But the size of his immediate advantage has perhaps overshadowed the fact that Walsh's fundraising is without precedent in Boston history. While individual donation limits did double in 2015, from $500 to $1,000, Walsh has in one term amassed about six times the amount his predecessor, the late Tom Menino, had at any time.
Walsh's war chest, in other words, is more than a competitive advantage: it's a new model of money in city politics — and not just here in Boston.
Walsh’s war chest may be staggering by local standards, but it’s also eye popping on a national scale.
Take, for example, the funds raised so far by New York mayor Bill De Blasio, another incumbent mayor preparing to run for his second term.
De Blasio’s campaign recently reported about $2.3 million in remaining campaign funds, a little more than half the size of Mayor Walsh’s war chest in real dollars. Since his last electoral victory, De Blasio’s campaign had spent about 1.4 million on his re-election, compared to about 4 million spent by Walsh’s campaign over the same period of time.
But relative to those cities’ voting bases, the difference is more significant:
For every one of New York City’s roughly 5 million voters, Mayor de Blasio had spent 28 cents per voter and had about 46 cents per voter left to spend — less than 50 cents for every registered voter.
In Philadelphia, population 1.6 million with about 1 million registered voters, then-City Councilman James Kenney approached the crucial 2015 primary for the mayoral seat he now holds having spent just under $2 million: roughly two dollars per registered Democrat and with $800,000, or one cent per voter, left in the bank.
Walsh, meanwhile, has spent more than nine dollars — not cents — for every registered voter in the city, and, five months out from the election, has enough funds to spend roughly the same amount again.
How Did The Walsh Machine Do It?
It’s not surprising, perhaps, that Boston mayors have traditionally raised contributions far beyond the boundaries of the city itself. Boston is a state capital and the only major city of New England; it’s a hub of development, education, technology, and finance.
Certainly former mayor Menino’s contributors came from across the state, and indeed the region.
But campaign finance data analyzed by WGBH News shows that the geographical reach of Walsh’s fundraising machine has, in just four years, already, exceeded that of his predecessor’s extensive network of donors.
“Tom Menino was the indisputed king of Boston politics, and normally that benefits campaign coffers,” observes Peter Ubertaccio, director of the Martin Institute for Law and Society and an associate professor of political science at Stonehill College in Easton. “So the fact that Walsh has outraised Menino so soon, [compared to] any point during Menino’s reign is a fascinating point of data.”
Mayoral campaigns in Boston do, Ubertaccio says, tend to draw donors from far outside the city’s boundaries.
Boston, after all, is the biggest city not only in Massachusetts, but New England; it is a capital city; and it is the undisputed economic hub of the region.
And it is a political hub as well. The Mayor of Boston, Ubertaccio notes, not only runs the city, but also wields considerable influence over the state’s political infrastructure, including at the state’s Democratic convention, where statewide candidates require the favor of delegates, many of whom come out of Boston’s political machine.
“The city is doing well,” Ubertaccio observes, “and money is attracted to the person who holds the power strings in an environment like that.”
That influence, the data show, appears to be growing.
Analyzing four years’ worth of campaign donations to Menino and Walsh (the former’s last four years and the latter’s first four years) shows that Walsh not only generally outraised Menino but drew donations from a wider geographical swath.
Walsh’s contributors come from more areas and from further away from Boston itself than Menino’s, with donors stretching from New York to Connecticut to Maine and New Hampshire.
Donations to Walsh between 2013 and 2017 came from at least 920 unique zip codes; that’s compared to 635 unique zip codes from which donors contributed to Menino in his last four years in office.
Walsh also raised substantially more donations from certain area outside of Boston, notably: Malden, Quincy and the South Shore generally, where in some zip codes Walsh received donations from over one thousand more residents than did Menino.