LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The final 2021 fundraising numbers for Louisville’s mayoral hopefuls are in and one candidate’s total dwarfs the rest. Business owner Craig Greenberg raised more than $300,000 in the final quarter of 2021, bringing his total raised to more than $1.1 million, according to the Kentucky Registry for Election Finance.
That’s more than every other candidate in the race combined.
“Greenberg is clearly positioning himself to win the upcoming primaries,” said UofL political science professor Dewey Clayton.
Jefferson County Circuit Court Clerk David Nicholson has raised a total of $420,000, while Jeffersontown Mayor Bill Dieruf, the only prominent Republican in the race, has raised $297,000. Shameka Parrish-Wright, a local activist, has raised nearly $38,000 and Pastor Timothy Findley, Jr., has brought in just over $36,000. Philip Molestina, the only other Republican in the race, has raised $11,250.
“I continue to be humbled by the outpouring of support for our campaign,” Greenberg, who reported having more than $800,000 in the bank, said in a statement. "Every day, more and more people are joining our campaign to build a safer, stronger and healthier Louisville."
Nicholson raised $209,000 in the final quarter of 2021, a total that his campaign attributed to an “ever-growing army of small donors.”
Asked about Greenberg’s fundraising advantage, Nicholson cited donations to Greenberg’s campaign from the Walton family, which owns Walmart. “The only advantage Greenberg seems to have is allowing the ultra-rich from both here and far-flung places to have oversight and influence in some of our most storied institutions,” Nicholson said.
Greenberg has received five maximum donations, totaling $10,000, from Bentonville, Arkansas-based members of the Walton family. The Louisville-based hotel chain 21C opened a hotel in Bentonville while Greenberg was an executive at the company.
Parrish-Wright, who was the first person to enter the race to succeed Mayor Greg Fischer, said fundraising differences can be explained by the differences in each candidate's network.
“The people who understand the promise of our campaign most personally, and who are most in need of representation, often don't have much to give,” she said.
Parrish-Wright added that her apparent fundraising deficit is in fact her “biggest advantage.”
“Those large donations aren't made out of the goodness of the donor's hearts — they're a cash down-payment for special access,” she said. “Those donors know they can expect a return on that investment, special favors and the ear of policymakers.”
Findley said the “wealth gap” is why some candidates raised more money than others and insisted that in the end, that won’t matter. “Money raised isn’t going to decide this election,” he said. “People are going to decide the election and the residents of Louisville want a new leader with passion and a plan to move Louisville forward.”
Despite their optimism, Parrish-Wright and Findley have a difficult road ahead, Clayton said. “It’s going to be a hard sell for them,” he said, noting the cost of hiring staff, running ads, and increasing name ID in a mayoral race. “They’re going to have to run a serious grassroots campaign. They’re going to have to get out and energize and mobilize by knocking on doors and having troops that are committed to working for them.”
Both candidates said they have a plan to do that, but Clayton said fundraising totals can influence voters even before a dollar is spent. People judge candidate viability based on how much money they raise, meaning more money often leads to more support. “People want to back a winner,” Clayton said.
Among the two Republican candidates, one has put up a six-figure fundraising total and the other is admittedly struggling to bring in donations. Dieruf, the Jeffersontown mayor, raised nearly $74,000 in the fourth quarter of 2021, a total his campaign manager, Carol Timmons, acknowledged was less than ideal.
"Fundraising efforts were affected in the recent quarter by Mayor Dieruf being sidelined for a few weeks when he had COVID-19,” Timmons said. She also said Dieruf was busy helping cities affected by December's devastating tornadoes in Western Kentucky.
Molestina, a political newcomer, raised only $1,806 in the final quarter of 2021. He said “being unknown as a Republican candidate” has hampered his efforts. “I was also surprised that many people that I know were hesitant in contributing to a Republican candidate,” he said.
But the pastor at He Visto la Luz Christian Church said he is undeterred. He said he's eager to represent the immigrant population of Louisville and wants to prove a candidate doesn't "need millions of dollars to become mayor of Louisville.”
That makes Molestina an outlier. People who can’t raise huge sums of money often skip running entirely, Clayton said. “It causes a lot of good people with good ideas to be reluctant to throw their hat in the ring and I think that’s a shame,” he said. “Money is ruining our politics.”
The first votes in the mayoral election will be cast in the May 17 primary.