It was a record-breaking year for Boise council candidates. Here’s who raised the most

·4 min read

2021 was a competitive year in Boise elections, with 11 candidates vying for three City Council seats in the city’s newly created districts. As it turns out, it was also an expensive year.

Several candidates raised large amounts of money in the days leading up to Election Day, with some nearly doubling their available cash in a single month. The spending came as some have expressed concern about the large donations, especially from outside Boise, flowing into local elections.

The largest contributions were given to candidates in District 3 — comprising parts of the North End, Collister, Sunset, Northwest Boise and Veterans Park neighborhoods — which proved to be the most competitive of any Boise election in 2021. Nearly half of all Boise voters came from District 3, according to voting data.

Leading the fundraising pack was incumbent and winning candidate Lisa Sanchez, who hauled in a record-breaking $88,000 total for her reelection campaign. It’s the largest total campaign by any candidate since at least 2010, the earliest year for which campaign records are maintained on the city’s website. She raised more than $30,000 in October, according to campaign finance reports.

Her main opponent, real estate agent Greg MacMillan, raised the next highest amount at about $71,000, although that was raised in about four months, compared with two years for Sanchez’s total.

Early in his campaign, MacMillan received large donations, typically around $1,000 each, that put him neck and neck with Sanchez, who was raising much less per donation. In October, though, Sanchez’s campaign picked up steam, outraising MacMillan with hundreds more donations. Each candidate’s most frequent donation size in October was $100.

In District 5 — an area comprising downtown, the East End and the Bench — incumbent Holli Woodings, who handily won reelection, quadrupled her fundraising total from the previous month to more than $41,000 through October, largely thanks to a series of donations from local political action committees. She far outraised her three opponents, compared to her nearest opponent Katie Fite’s $9,500.

Political newcomer Luci Willits easily won the District 1 race in West Boise with nearly $42,000 total in donations. She ran as a conservative to bring greater representation to the City Council; her donations reflect that, with several Republicans donors making large donations. Laura Metzler, her primary challenger, raised $11,730.

District

Candidate

Votes

Pct

Money raised

$ per vote

1

Luci Willits

3,134

55.9%

$41,868

$13.36

1

Laura Metzler

1,937

34.6%

$11,730

$6.06

1

David L. Jones

535

9.5%

$0

$0

3

Lisa Sanchez

5,758

57.2%

$88,545

$15.38

3

Greg MacMillan

3,722

37%

$70,994

$19.06

3

Nicholas Domeny

199

2%

$0

$0

3

Maria Santa Cruz-Cernik

383

3.8%

$1,205

$3.15

5

Holli Woodings

3,317

49.2%

$41,759

$12.59

5

Katie Fite

1,436

21.3%

$9,532

$6.64

5

Steve Madden

1,260

18.7%

$6,875

$5.46

5

J. “Crispin” Gravatt

725

10.8%

$4,312

$5.95

Money raised through 10/31/2021. Winners in boldface.

Maryanne Jordan, who served on the City Council for 14 years, said she’s anticipating Boise’s local elections to continue to get more expensive as district races become more partisan and competitive.

“You simply can’t run these campaigns off your kitchen table anymore,” she said. “There’s a whole bunch of different variables in there that have increased the cost — and then it sort of blew up this year.”

Still, it wasn’t the most expensive election year on record. That was 2019, when 11 candidates raised a combined total of $298,486, compared with this year’s $276,820. While none of those candidates got close to the amounts raised by Sanchez and MacMillan, each candidate raised an average of $27,135, compared with $25,165 by the 2021 candidates.

More PAC money spent in Boise elections

The aggressive fundraising and campaigning did not go unnoticed by Boise politicos. Jordan cited one factor behind the high totals for some campaigns: political action committees.

Such PACs as Conservative Citizens for Thoughtful Growth and the Ada County Republican Central Committee, among others, spent large sums on advertisements, with many attacking Sanchez and labeling her a “radical” and “leftist”.

Conservative Citizens for Thoughtful Growth, run by Steve Martinez of Tradewinds Building Co., spent about $8,400 in ads against Sanchez, which appeared in mailers and electronic billboards around the district. The developer-backed Responsible Government Fund also spent money in favor of Greg MacMillan’s campaign, while the Planned Parenthood Votes Idaho PAC gave Sanchez $1,000.

“That was at a level that we have not really seen in City Council elections before,” Jordan said by phone. “That forced the hand of candidates to have to make even more certain that their message was getting out correctly and not colored by some of these outside expenditures.”

She said she’s hoping the 2023 elections will allow candidates to adjust to the unique demands of district elections, so raising PAC money won’t be as necessary.

But given that all six council seats and the mayor’s office will be up next election, the stakes will be even higher then.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting