Ben Arredondo has financially crushed his four competitors in the Tempe City Council race by massing a war chest five times as large as his opponents.
The incumbent councilman raised $151,000 through Dec. 31, according to campaign finance documents released this week. His four competitors have about $28,000 among all of them.
Arredondo is one of Tempe’s best-known residents given his three terms on the council, a stint as a county supervisor, a term on a school board and his family’s long history in the city. The former high school wrestling and football coach said his background triggered an aggressive fundraising effort.
“In the competitive business of coaching, you never look back to see who’s catching, and you always want to do everything in your power to win,” Arredondo said.
Arredondo’s challengers said they’re resigned to the fact he’ll outspend them. The war chest triggered only mild criticism from Councilman Leonard Copple and newcomer Corey Woods, who said the huge fund could intimidate potential community leaders from seeking political office.
“If you’ve got to raise that much money in a campaign race, you’re not going to have that much of a representative government because not that many people can raise that much money,” said Woods, a graduate student at Arizona State University. Woods has the smallest fund, less than $3,900.
Copple said he couldn’t understand the need for a well-known incumbent to raise so much. Copple spent $20,000 as a challenger in 1998, about $18,000 as an incumbent four years ago and will spend even less this time.
Arredondo’s money comes from other politicians, former mayors, firefighter groups, business owners and developers. Individuals are limited to $370 donations and political action committees can give slightly more.
Council hopeful Onnie Shekerjian said she’s turned away thousands of dollars from people who do business with the city to avoid a conflict of interest.
“If Ben feels comfortable he can take money and there’s no conflict of interest. It’s perfectly legal,” Shekerjian said. “I don’t want to put him down for that.”
Candidate Shana Ellis also saw nothing wrong. “He’s going to know more people who are politically active in the community and that’s just a fact of holding an elected position in this community for so long,” Ellis said.
Arredondo said he gathered most of the money by asking people directly for a contribution.
“I’m not bashful to walk up and ask people,” Arredondo said.